Residents of Indonesia woke up to find a number of the world’s biggest websites inaccessible to them over the weekend as new internet regulations went into effect. These included Yahoo and a number of popular gaming websites (such as Steam and Epic Games), but the biggest outcry came over the blocking of Paypal.
Due to the financial havoc the move caused, access to Paypal was restored for the week as the Indonesian Communications Ministry told residents to “get their money” out and “find other services.” The sites were blocked due to a requirement by the new internet regulations that they register with the national government and grant it broad access to user data. Additionally, the country’s new internet regulations give it sweeping power to compel these sites to take down content that “disturbs public order.”
Major companies refusing to comply with Indonesian internet regulation
The new Indonesian internet regulation was passed in November 2020, but did not come into effect until July 20 of this year. The government is now requiring an invasive level of access of companies that register with it, among other measures requiring them to take down any content it objects to within 24 hours (or within a mere four hours in cases it deems “urgent”). The new rules also require platforms to identify users and turn over personal information when government or law enforcement agencies request it.
While most of the country’s domestic businesses have registered, many major foreign firms are refusing and will not communicate with the Indonesian government on the issue. Many of the major social media and search platforms, including Google and Facebook, waited until the final days of the deadline to register.
Observers have questioned how far the Indonesian government would be willing to go ahead of the start date for the new internet regulations given the expected economic impact of blocking many major sites and apps, the public outcry it would cause, and the fact that government officials and agencies use many of these services. The country of 270 million is very tech-centric and in the top 10 of user counts for quite a few major social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. The country is generally third in overall website user counts in the Asia Pacific region behind the massive populations of China and India.
The national government said that the new internet regulations are “administrative” rather than a means of repressing speech. Critics remain unconvinced. The country has now seen over two decades of democracy with elections generally regarded as free and fair, but the administration of current president Joko Widodo (in power since 2014 under total term limits of 10 years) has been criticized for the spurious jailing of government critics and periodic harassment of journalists that cover stories unfavorable to it.
Holdouts to Indonesia’s internet regulation not issuing public comments
The Indonesian government appears to be leaving the door open to foreign firms indefinitely with its internet regulations, promising to unblock them whenever they decide to register. It appears that those that have decided against doing so are also choosing not to comment on the issue, making it unclear what their long-term intentions are. They may be counting on citizen backlash, as the Paypal issue alone caused government posts on the subject to be flooded with thousands of negative comments and organizing under the “BlokirKominfo” hashtag. International watchdog groups such as Human Rights Watch and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have joined in protesting the new law.
In addition to Paypal, Yahoo, and most of the major online “game store” services, Microsoft’s Bing search, Xandr digital advertising platform and other services also appear to have been blocked for at least some amount of time, though the company has since registered for a license. Of the gaming services, only Valve (owner of Steam) has issued a statement saying that it is working on compliance with the internet regulations.
The overarching law that these registration requirements and bans fall under, Ministerial Regulation 5, has also banned virtual private networks (VPNs). A similar move was made by the government of India recently, with major VPN providers responding by pulling their servers out of the country but allowing Indian customers to use special overseas servers that provide them with an Indian IP address.
The new internet regulation puts an additional burden on companies that do opt to register, as they must now police the platform for content that the government has listed as “prohibited” and proactively remove it from the view of users in the country. Failure to do so can result in fines and suspension; the terms also extend to policing transfers of documents between users on the platform, though it remains to be seen how invasive the government plans to be in policing that particular element.