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Indonesia Acquires New System to Automate Internet Censorship

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Indonesia joins list of countries exercising censorship, buying a billion dollar system to implement new policies.

A few months ago, Indonesia’s IT ministry announced comprehensive plans to scale up its censorship over the internet. Only last week, it purchased an IDR 221 billion automated system, a system that allows them to do just that and more.

Experts believe that the government will be able to implement its new set of internet censorship policies starting next year. Whether they will be able to do it right away early next year remains to be seen.

Indonesia’s Internet Censorship History

Although a lot of agencies in and around Indonesia accused the government of filtering a large amount of content, there was no substantial evidence to corroborate these allegations about a decade ago.

In 2015, a survey conducted by Freedom On The Net revealed that the internet was only partly free in the country.

The government does maintain a positive outlook on the internet and its modern-day benefits, especially in the economic sector—which has millions of businesses relying heavily on the internet for revenue. However, pornographic content and the anti-Islamic material does get filtered out.

Most notably, two hugely popular internet forums, Reddit and Imgur, were blocked from public access three years ago.

This year, the government also blocked Telegram, an instant messaging app. This leads one to question why Indonesia didn’t also block other instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp. If Telegram really facilitated extremism, one would ask how WhatsApp was not doing so as well.

This is again the same selective banning process the government has been notoriously popular for throughout the decade.

How the Ministry Handles the Censorship Process

Last year, Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Informatics reported that they were successful in blocking nearly a million websites based on the grounds that they exhibited nudity, extremism and gambling. For this to happen, the staff had to manually collate data, skim through the websites and then type in the address for it to be blocked.

With the new system, the process is said to be largely automated and more intelligent. This only means that websites are going to be hand-picked by programmed artificial intelligence technologies to be blocked at a very quick rate.

Telecommunications service provider PT Industri Telekomunikasi Indonesia won the bid to ink the deal to carry out the process. There were over 70 bidders initially, and the authorities managed to zero in on PT Inti.

The company is expected to set up the required infrastructure by next year, which involves hiring new employees and buying new hardware. A pilot test might also run in the background until the full system is functional and ready to go.

Automated System Behind Internet Censorship

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Similar steps to boost internet censorship rules were undertaken by China only a few months ago, and now Indonesia follows suit.

Previously, there were concerns about the technology that the Indonesian government was trying to acquire. Several reports even argued that they were trying to imitate the process the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency used to spy on its own citizens—a practice called Deep Packet Inspection (or DPI).

With DPI, the government could essentially spy on its own citizens in real time and even mine the data that they extract from it, making it impossible for users to stay completely anonymous on the internet.

However, the director general of applications at the Ministry of Communication and Informatics has stated that DPI technology won’t be used. Instead, he opinions that a crawling technique (often used by search engines such as Google), will be used to track down objectionable content.

The system is said to automatically carry out searches depending upon the interested keyword. This, according to the Ministry, is more efficient than the current system which gives authorities enough control over the internet without having to interfere or fiddle too much with user data.

A Final Word

As the noose tightens on netizens in Indonesia, it remains to be seen if the government actually lives up to its word and only sticks to banning objectionable content, or bumps up their efforts to bring a total crackdown and turn Indonesia into another North Korea or Saudi Arabia.

Similar steps to boost internet censorship rules were undertaken by Chinaz only a few months ago, and now Indonesia follows suit. Will the restrictions keep piling on? Only time will tell.

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