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Jakarta Post

Experts warn about exploitation of voters' personal data

  • News Desk

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, December 28, 2018   /   11:24 am
Experts warn about exploitation of voters' personal data Reports about the exploitation of voter data in elections overseas, coupled with uncertainty surrounding the deliberation of the data privacy bill at home, should be sufficient warning of potentially similar abuse of personal information here in Indonesia. (Shutterstock/File)

Reports about the exploitation of voter data in elections overseas, coupled with uncertainty surrounding the deliberation of the data privacy bill at home, should be sufficient warning of potentially similar abuse of personal information here in Indonesia.

The Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) has warned over potential data misuse ahead of next year’s general elections through voter behavioral targeting (VBT) and voter micro-targeting (VMT) survey techniques commonly applied by political survey institutions.

“Political campaigning has effectively shifted to sophisticated data operations. The shift of voters’ choices [in elections] is a result of such [data operations], and this [practice] is nothing new,” ELSAM researcher Wahyudi Djafar told a media conference recently.

He cited alleged misuse during the 2017 elections in Kenya, where Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics company, stoked ethnic sentiment through carefully tailored personal text messages sent to voters. The practice had prompted the Kenyan Supreme Court to declare null and void the results of the August 2017 presidential election and order a revote to take place a month later.

Wahyudi said the development of the internet also had an effect on the changing electoral landscape all over the world. He was of the opinion that voters’ personal data were particularly at risk in Indonesia.

“Indonesia has 132 million internet users, 130 million of whom are active social media users. Thus, there is a massive space for personal data exploitation, especially since the majority of [internet users] are voters,” he said.

He called on the General Elections Commission (KPU) and the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) to regulate political ads and recommended speeding up the process to pass the data privacy bill. The bill is yet to be submitted to the House of Representatives for further deliberation.

Sigit Pamungkas, executive director of the Network for Democracy and Electoral Integrity (Netgrit), said Law No. 7/2017 on General Elections allowed political campaigns to be conducted through social media on the condition that every candidate could only open 10 accounts on any platform and their ads could only be aired for 30 seconds a day on every platform.

“However, the law only refers to personal accounts, while it should regulate the platform providers instead. And this could give rise to an imbalanced political contest, since online ads are expensive,” Sigit said.

Another cause for concern is the fact that profiling by survey institutions is based on people’s personal data obtained from the national electronic ID (e-ID) database. Details stored in that database are prone to abuse.

Usep Sadikin, a researcher with the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), however, said such abuse could be prevented if voters’ data were accurate.

“If voters’ data are accurate, any possible abuse of them can be anticipated,” Used said. 

Currently, Indonesia relies on Communications and Information Ministry Regulation No. 20/2016 on the protection of personal data in electronic systems. However, this regulation is been deemed inadequate by some to anticipate large-scale electronic data breaches. 

Bawaslu commissioner Fritz Edward Sirait previously acknowledged that the agency had yet to take specific measures to anticipate the potential misuse of voters’ data, saying that prevailing regulations suggested it was beyond its authority to monitor big data usage in political campaigns. (spl)

This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post's print edition on Dec. 28, 2018, with the title "Experts warn about exploitation of voters' personal data".