The recent news about Indonesia has attracted my attention. The good news, National Development Agency’s plan to mainstreaming the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at national and local level. The not so good news, the dispute between Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) and Telegram, an encrypted messaging service; government intended to block Telegram for not complying with their request.
These affairs undoubtedly sends mixed messages. On the one hand, the government show commitment to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, on the other hand they want more control over internet. Can Indonesia’s government accomplish these ambitious goals and targets without giving more freedom for citizens online?
The government's intention to strengthen internet censorship can undermine the efforts to achieve SDG goals and targets. Free and open internet is so instrumental for Sustainable Development because it strengthens civic engagement, improves livelihoods, and promotes transparency and accountability. “If Internet service providers filter access to a limited number of websites, it could affect access to the Internet in its full richness and, ultimately, affect most of the SDGs.”
For example, let’s have a look at indicator 16.10: Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms. This indicator explicitly guarantees citizens’ rights to information and the government is bound to protect and defend it.
But in the recent years, Indonesians’ access to internet services and online information has been limited. What becomes unsettling, internet censorship is legitimate under national laws.
The Information and Electronic Transactions Law (ITE Law), passed in 2008, gives authority to MCI regulate online information. Under this law, any citizen convicted of committing defamation online faces up to six years in prison and penalty 1 billion rupiah (US$71,000). To date, a total of 165 "violations" of ITE Law has been recorded; majority of them is defamation cases.
On top of that, MCI issued Ministerial Decree no 19 in 2014 as an enforcement for Internet Service Providers to "immediately" filter websites deemed “pornographic” or “negative”. But the restrictions on perceived “negative” content has affected citizens and online services beyond initial intention. This includes temporary or permanent ban on legitimate platforms such as Reddit, Youtube, Vimeo and Netflix. In 2016, LINE messaging apps was forced to remove LGBT theme emoji. Internet censorships sparked public outcry and the government was accused of censoring LGBT related information and speech.
One of the answers to this problematic situation is by reducing internet barriers: obstacles in internet access, limitations of content and violations of user rights. The government’s initiative to review ITE Law and to reduce defamation punishment from 6 years to 1.5 years is a good start but not enough. As many have suggested, the defamation clause which often provides opportunity for abuse and causes harms to innocent citizens, should be removed completely. The government should revisit and review other regulations that puts free and open internet at risk, and those that can backtrack the SDG efforts. Most important, citizens should be involved and consulted to safeguard the process. After all, Sustainable Development can only be achieved by giving citizens voice and empowerment, not the other way around.