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Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post
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End outdated Internet controls, Minister Rudiantara

  • Irene Poetranto

    The Jakarta Post

TORONTO | Sat, November 15, 2014 | 09:56 am

On Oct. 26, President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo announced his Cabinet and appointed Rudiantara as communications and information minister. Known for his extensive experience in the telecommunications industry, Rudiantara is expected to deal effectively with the many challenges still remaining from his predecessor, Tifatul Sembiring.

Among them are the uneven distribution of telecommunications infrastructure and government regulations that stifle freedom of expression.

Internet penetration in Indonesia reaches only 28 percent of the total population of around 250 million people, with most of the telecommunications infrastructure concentrated in Java and Sumatra.

During the recent visit of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to Indonesia, he brought the issue of Internet infrastructure to President Jokowi'€™s attention.

Internet access is increasingly in demand, with more and more people entering the middle class. The Indonesian Internet Service Providers Association (APJII) predicted that the contribution of Internet services to the country'€™s gross domestic product (GDP) in the next two years could reach US$26 billion, or about 2.8 percent of GDP. Given the Internet'€™s enormous potential, Rudiantara and his ministry would do well to bolster the country'€™s infrastructure development.

Although freedom of expression is enshrined in the Constitution and in a number of laws and regulations, there are still threats and challenges in exercising this right online.

One of the first most egregious cases related to the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law was that of homemaker Prita Mulyasari who was charged under Article 27 of the law. She was sued for defamation by Omni International Hospital for writing a private email, which was then forwarded by a friend to a mailing list, criticizing medical treatment she received.

Netizens face far harsher penalties under the ITE Law than under the Criminal Code; that is, a maximum of six years in prison and a fine of up to Rp 1 billion ($105,000) compared to a maximum of nine months'€™ imprisonment and a maximum fine of Rp 4,500 under the Code. Sixty-nine people have been subjected to punitive measures since the ITE Law was implemented in 2008.

Civil society groups are campaigning for the amendment of the controversial bill to be included in the 2014-2019 national legislative program, urging Rudiantara to throw in his support.

The Communications and Information Ministry came under fire earlier this year when it decided to block the Vimeo video-sharing site due to '€œpornographic content'€. The move was controversial because the website has gained a reputation for high-quality and high-definition videos and it forbids users from uploading sexually explicit material or pornography. The ministry was criticized not only for the wholesale ban of Vimeo in particular, but also the opaque nature of its content-control regime in general.

Rudiantara, meanwhile, has just stated his aim to lift the ban on Vimeo.

For more than a decade, the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto'€™s Munk School of Global Affairs has conducted research into information controls like Internet censorship and surveillance that have an impact on the Internet'€™s openness and security and that pose threats to human rights.

Our research on Internet censorship and surveillance in Indonesia has been conducted since 2010. As the Internet environment in Indonesia is broadly distributed across more than 300 Internet service providers (ISPs), we have found that ISPs use varying mechanisms and tools to filter content, and that the scope and depth of what content is actually filtered varies between ISPs.

The ministry'€™s recent efforts to standardize the content-control process (in its ministerial decree No. 19/2014 on the handling of negative Internet content) were met with criticism.

The decree not only failed to narrowly define what it meant by '€œnegative content'€, but also did not outline the mechanics of the content-control process in a transparent fashion.

This over-broad provision entails an increased risk for infringing on fundamental rights. Content involving religious issues and those related to sexuality and gender '€” for example, local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community websites '€” among other content categories, have been blocked. Several NGOs intend to submit a judicial review of the decree to the Supreme Court to encourage the government to be more open, transparent and accountable.

The Internet is a complex technical environment that concerns the interests and livelihoods of many people. As such, the formulation of policies that affect the Internet'€™s operability, use and growth must take into account the broad range of stakeholders in business, academia, the technical community and civil society, among others.

The development of a thriving Internet in Indonesia depends on a governance structure that is open and transparent.

Each stakeholder has an important role to play in ensuring that the Internet continues to grow and adapt to meet the needs of those who depend on it. It is time for the ministry to do its part.

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The writer is a communications officer and researcher at Citizen Lab, the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, Canada.

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