Deadline looms for new tough restrictions on internet content in Indonesia

Tomorrow marks the introduction of a new, restrictive set of internet regulations in Indonesia, which activists claim will dramatically tighten government control over the internet sphere in Southeast Asia’s most populous country.

Under new regulations issued by Indonesia’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology in November 2020, social media and internet platforms, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok, will be required to hand over user data and comply with government content moderation orders.

Ahead of the deadline, the search giant Google told BenarNews that it will comply with the regulations. “We are aware of the requirement to register in accordance with relevant regulations, and we will take appropriate action to comply,” an Indonesian representative told the news agency, which also quoted a government official as saying that other leading platforms, including TikTok, had complied.

The government claims that the regulation is primarily intended to protect domestic users from prohibited content, which is defined as anything that violates laws, causes public concern, or disrupts public order. It will apply to all companies that provide online services, engage in online business activities, or whose online platforms are used in Indonesia, including some of the world’s largest technology companies.

According to the regulation, formally known as Ministerial Regulation 5 (MR5), these service providers are required to comply with most content removal orders within 24 hours. In the case of urgent takedown requests, such as those involving terrorism, child sexual abuse, and content that causes “disruption in the community or disturbance of public order,” the deadline for compliance is just four hours.

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The MR5 will also give the government the power to fine online and social media platforms that do not comply with the rules. Platforms that repeatedly fail to comply with government requests can be banned in Indonesia; Its local employees could also face criminal penalties.

Needless to say, the new regulations have been strongly condemned by free speech advocates. Michael Custer writes in The Diplomat Today, of free speech advocacy group ARTICLE 19, that regulation’s combination of tight compliance timeframes, vague definitions, and punitive intent has made it “one of the most repressive systems of Internet governance in the world.”

Once in effect, Custer wrote, it would worsen a nation that has seen its internet freedom “steadily diminish over the past five years.” “The implementation of these internet regulations threatens to plunge Indonesia into a crisis of freedom of expression,” he added. Human Rights Watch described the MR5 as “extremely problematic, giving government authorities very broad powers to regulate online content, access user data, and penalize companies that do not comply.”

The list is just the latest sign of a Southeast Asian nation’s quest to expand its control over social media platforms that have become a prominent part of the region’s social and political life. The region includes four of the ten countries with the largest Facebook user bases in the world; Indonesia is proud of being the third largest country in the world.

There are legitimate concerns about the extent to which the region’s politics have been distorted by a deluge of disinformation and disinformation, not to mention the ravages of child sexual abuse images and other toxic content. But given Southeast Asian governments’ ambiguous views of freedom of expression in general, it is perhaps not surprising that their resolution of the issue may go beyond the intended goal.

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