Indonesia Blocks Popular Websites Under New Censorship Law

In 2020, the Indonesian government implemented a heavy-handed intermediary liability regulation called the “MR5”. This law requires all websites to register with the government, or be blocked entirely. It also requires that websites give Indonesian law enforcement access to any user content, including private communications and private storage.

The cut-off date for registration — July 29 — has now passed, and several websites, including PayPal, Steam, Epic Games, and Nintendo Online, missed the deadline. The Indonesian government has now blocked a long list of popular websites and the decision has been met with vehement criticism online.

The government has stated that the websites will be reinstated once they register, but none of them have so far announced whether they plan to do so. Human rights organizations have also raised concerns over what this law means for freedom of opinion and expression in Indonesia — a country that already struggles with draconian internet censorship laws.

Indonesia Has a History of Blocking Websites and Free Speech

While Indonesia didn’t make it onto our list of top 10 countries that block social media, it shares many similarities with those countries. Indonesia has blocked several popular websites over the past few years, citing various reasons such as the websites causing harm to the state or the community.

In 2015, Indonesia blocked Reddit and Vimeo, claiming that these sites contain explicit content that can be harmful to children. All websites that display adult content were also banned, similar to the UK porn ban that came into force in 2019.

Despite President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo’s claims that Indonesia is “a democratic country that champions free speech”, the country has been implementing and enacting increasingly oppressive laws. The government also has a habit of pursuing and persecuting human rights activists and the media.

Protecting Citizens From Themselves (For Their Own Good)

The new law, called the Regulation of the Minister of Communication and Informatics Number 5 of 2020 on Private Electronic System Operators (MR5), came into effect in November 2020. Electronic System Operators (ESOs) refers to the companies that own the apps and websites.

MR5 forms part of the Indonesian Communications Ministry’s “Internet Sehat” (Healthy Internet) program. On top of handing over user data to the government, websites are also required to actively monitor user content to remove “prohibited information.” 

Unfortunately, the law uses vague wording to describe prohibited information, including “blasphemy” and content that “creates community anxiety.” On top of that, websites have to take down any content the government deems unlawful or that “disturbs public order” within four hours if urgent, otherwise within twenty-four hours.

So far, major companies like Alphabet Inc. (Google), Meta, and Amazon have registered, giving the Indonesian government access to all of the user data these data-hungry giants collect. Since Chrome still holds the largest market share in browser preference, this gives the Indonesian government a lot of power to control what citizens can see online. That includes Google subsidiaries like YouTube.

Services that refused to register or missed the deadline have been blocked to Indonesian IPs. These include Yahoo, PayPal, Steam, Epic Games, Nintendo Online, EA’s platform, and Ubisoft’s online platform. PayPal was temporarily reinstated so people could withdraw their money from the platform.

Screenshot of blocked steam website in Indonesia
Indonesians are posting screenshots of the block on social media.

Rights activists like ARTICLE 19 and the EFF have expressed major concern over the potential repressive powers this legal framework now affords the Indonesian government.

Indonesian Citizens’ Freedom Is on the Line

Indonesia has an estimated 191 million internet users, most of whom use the web to earn money, shop, play games, study, read the news, and watch their favorite shows and films. This new law introduces censorship that potentially puts all of that at risk.

The Indonesian government likely manages to block these websites by forcing ISPs to blacklist their IP addresses. A VPN is the only way to get around those blocks because it encrypts your traffic and reroutes it through a secure server that changes your IP address. This process prevents your ISP, the government, and even cybercriminals from seeing what you do online.

ISPs won’t block you from visiting a website if they can’t see the websites (and the IP addresses of those websites) you visit, including the apps you use. You can even keep your Indonesian IP address while protecting your online privacy if you connect to CyberGhost VPN. 

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