EngageMedia Blog

Digital Freedom and Privacy Under Attack in Indonesia

by Yerry Nikholas Borang November 26, 2015
Indonesia is slipping back to darker days in its history when restrictions and surveillance were more prevalent.

As technological innovation and the development of information technology become the major factors in shaping life in our world today, the implications and risks that grow along with them become more apparent. Among other problems, is the privacy and the protection of the human rights of users of these technologies.

These revelations were made clearer after the recent heroic acts of some of the most daring whistle blowers the world has ever seen. I’m talking about Julian Assange (Wikileaks), Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and so on. After they went public, we knew much more about the nature of mass-surveillance conducted by states and state apparatuses alongside corporate actors.

Citizens in Indonesia, as with other Southeast Asian nations, get minimal protection from the state and their seemingly endless harassment. There is a low level of public consciousness in the rights to privacy, but it is a lack of interest in that right which makes it so hard to even start trying to raise awareness through any kind of campaign.

For example, in Indonesia, we have a situation where the Internet was introduced faster than our capability to give it and its related terms (such as "upload" and "download") localized names. It became such an integral part of our lives before we even understood how it worked and what its consequences were. The sheer number of online activities in a country with the third largest population in the world made the government realize that they needed to create some rules for this new sphere. This development revealed that despite recently freeing itself from 32 years of military dictatorship, many legacies from its darker days, such as the state surveillance machine, are still very much alive and well.

Across the thousands of islands, each and every government body and apparatus of law has been busy carrying out its own surveillance and upgrading its tools. The military, police, Department of Justice, the Public Prosecutor, Anti-Corruption Special Body, Anti-Drugs and Narcotics Body are just some of the many institutions that are secretly tapping into their citizen activities, many times without any legal warrants whatsoever from the court. I mean, who needs those anyway?

The hottest topics among activists and human rights advocates was the controversial Circular Letter by the Chief of National Police on the handling of hate speech on 8 October 2015. Most critics said that this hands the police a powerful weapon, allowing it to decide what can and cannot be categorized as hate speech, and is absolutely problematic and dangerous. This circular has turned into one of the most heated current debates, and many believe that Indonesia could once again slip into totalitarianism.

It's even more alarming that this circular comes at a time when the police force is working hard to clean its name and maneuvering around allegations of corruption among several of its members. In one such case, they arrested one activist who recorded and broadcasted a video exposing police bribery.

In another recent development, the government is moving to revise the Electronic Information and Transaction Law (ITE Law) and beginning to draft a Law of Privacy Protection, aimed to be heard in parliament during the National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) in 2016. The ITE Law was previously denounced by Indonesian civil rights activists for denying protection to the rights of netizens and restricted internet freedom. This law allows anyone to report on anyone else about anything, as long as it’s considered "defamatory". But who decides what is defamatory? Just earlier this year, a woman confiding to a friend on Facebook about her husband's alleged acts of domestic violence was taken to court and found guilty.

Apparently, the Indonesian government now wants to deprive the citizens of almost all freedom of expression by revising this law to add even tighter restrictions and stronger punishment. The official excuse for such drastic measures was the supposedly negative and chaotic effects of the liberal use of social media and the internet. Rising violations of privacy and statistics of crimes related to internet use are also used as scare tactics to justify a strong state response: a hammer to bend (or break) the liberal use of the internet. And so, the administration is in the process of creating a "Cyber National Body", tasked with clamping down on what it considers to be negative aspects of the internet, the violation of social media, and scrutinizing every honest expression by every Indonesian citizen.

If all goes according plan, it could mean a long and difficult road for the civil and digital rights movement in the country to uphold and expand their efforts, as well as build a system for the protection of the public and general user of the internet.

Related links
RSF: Indonesian President Fails to Keep Media Freedom Pledges in First Year
Bela Negara and the Re-Militarization of Indonesia
State Defense Program Kicks Off Nationwide
RightsCon: The Cost of Surveillance (Video)

Is there a Bright Future for Myanmar?

by Kyalyi November 20, 2015
After spending 15 years under house-arrest, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, now 70, and her party the National League for Democracy, have won more than 75 percent of the seats in parliament. "It's not finished yet", she was quoted as saying in a recent interview, making it clear that this was not the end, but the beginning.

The defeated generals and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) have indicated that they will accept the result. After which, Suu Kyi called for “national reconciliation” meetings with Myanmar’s president, military commander-in-chief and speaker of the lower house of parliament. President Thein Sein and armed forces chief, Min Aung Hlaing, have stated they will meet with Suu Kyi once final election results are announced. Now, the world's eyes are on Myanmar.

The election is a big step for Myanmar, which has spent 50 years under military rule. But is it a step towards a bright future for the country? We highlight some videos from our curated collection to help understand this new victory, and what lies ahead.

Long Isolated, Suu Kyi Now Achieves Power

As Myanmar's ongoing vote count pointed to a landslide victory for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), its leader Aung San Suu Kyi told RFA's Myanmar Service in an interview that she was not ready to declare "a winning moment yet" and that victory in the November 8 national elections marked only the first step toward the goals of her supporters.

The 70-year-old Nobel laureate added that popular suspicion that the country's dominant military would refuse to honor the results were understandable, but that she believed that the nation "cannot be caught in the bond of suspicion."

DVB TV Bulletin: 16 November 2015

This news report highlights the resumption of Parliament, President Thein Sein's talks for peaceful transition, Suu Kyi's appeal to student hunger strikers, and continuing displacements in central Shan State.

On 16 November, Thein Sein met with all 91 political parties that contested the election and announced that he believes "the next government will do its best to continue to build on this good foundation".

Future Sino-Burmese Relations

The Editor-in-Chief of The Irrawaddy speaks with Bertil Lintner, a specialist on Myanmar political affairs and ethnic politics, about how the new NLD government would deal with China, which remains Myanmar’s largest source of investment, channeling between US$14- to $20 billion into the country since 1988.

After the government suspended the Myitsone dam project, and following public outcry over the controversial Chinese-backed Letpadaung copper mine project, some civil society groups felt a wholesale review of Chinese investment was imminent.

View more videos on the Myanmar elections here.

The Floating Kalabia

by Kartika Pratiwi November 17, 2015
The Kalabia Marine Education Vessel is a floating alternative school that sails to every island in Raja Ampat, West Papua, and invites children to stay three days on it to learn about environmental conservation.

The project began when Conservation International collaborated with The Nature Conservacy to develop education in the islands of Raja Ampat, West Papua. The education vessel named Kalabia, cruises to every island in Raja Ampat to invite children from the villages to learn about environmental and marine biodiversity, with an aim to contribute to the preservation of the rich marine biodiversity there. The name Kalabia is taken from an endemic affecting the “walking” shark (Hemiscyllium Freycineti), which can only be found in Raja Ampat.

There is an urgent need to increase awareness among the people in the islands on the importance of preserving the environment as Raja Ampat is home to over 1500 fish species, 600 corals, 15 sea mammals, and 40 kinds of shrimp. Moreover, Raja Ampat is at the heart of the "Coral Triangle", an area considered by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) as a top priority for marine conservation.


The Kalabia spends three days in each village, educating children with a interesting and attractive learning curriculum. For example, when they have a session about reefs, the group goes diving together to directly see the various reefs and then back to the ship to discuss further. Every night, Kalabia organizes a film screening on a port and invites others to join the audience.


The children who are invited to study on the ship are from grades four and five, chosen as part of the long-term goals of the project. The kids are extremely excited every time the Kalabia leans on the port of their islands and feel happy to study in the colorful ship, full of marine flora and fauna decoration.

According to Merry, one of the teachers who has been staying on the ship for 15 days, the Kalabia Marine Conservation Project hopes that children in Raja Ampat have a willingness to be pro-conservation and take care of their marine biodiversity.

Raja Ampat was also the subject matter of 'Masters of Our Land', one of the films from our Papuan Voices collection.

Digital Rights Workshop in Malaysia

by EM News November 11, 2015
In partnership with EngageMedia, Sinar Project held a workshop to discuss digital rights in Malaysia.


Source: Sinar Project

Previous workshops were focused on providing more urgent assistance and training such as how to stay anonymous, digital devices security and safety online. We manage to discuss digital rights issues which related to privacy, freedom of expression and innovation especially threats that faced by the politician, activists and CSO.

The session was attended by representatives from several CSOs and media organisations, including MESYMIDEASAsal Bukan UMNO (ABU)SUARAM and CiliSos.my.

Feedback and insights were gained from discussions on Freedom of Expression, Privacy and Innovation from participants:

Freedom of expression online

Malaysia’s constitution provides citizens with “the right to freedom of speech and expression,” and MSC Malaysia has guaranteed in the Bill of Guarantees No.71, ensuring no censorship of the Internet. However, several online news portals such as Sarawak Report, Malaysian-Chronicle, and The Edge has been censored recently because of posted the scandals and fraud of ruling government.

The major threat is political censorship. There is lack of check and balance system in judicial bodies, thus, some issues were hidden due to censorship and valuable public information is inaccessible to the masses. In past few years there have been several cases on the restriction of freedom of expression using Internet and digital technologies, such as opposition activists, parliamentarians, student leaders, CSO members, human rights lawyers, journalists, academics etc. charged with Sedition Act, Communication and Multimedia Act (CMA) and Penal Code. Not much has been publicly discussed yet or publicly known, on the possible implications of other laws such as the Printing Presses and Publication Act (PPPA) that could also be used to restrict use of digital publications, for example Zunar’s cartoon in digital formats.


Privacy and data protection

The rights to privacy in Malaysia is under threat in digital space. A leaked information online revealed that the Malaysian Government bought Spyware services from Hacking Team, an organization known for selling spyware systems to governments to spy on their citizens. Also, Malaysian government passed the amendment on the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) in 2013, which authorizes phone-tapping and communications powers to the government and also electronic anklet to track the freed detainees of Prevention of Terrorism Act (PoTA). With surveillance by the government, an introduction to measures on self defense against surveillance is needed.

There is lack of control of personal data protection in Malaysia. For private sector services providers, data is the type of product which can be easily sold to a third party. The causes identified are a public lack of awareness on giving and sharing personal data, especially when registering and signing on to services. Government or authority can also request any of the company referring the data for investigation purposes, because Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) does not cover government agencies and bodies. Thus, government and authority can easily monitor citizen movements due to the lack of data protection between government agencies.

Innovation and academic freedom

Malaysian Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) laws at this time are not very restrictive for innovation, for example software patents and design, productions of multimedia such as films, documentations, animations and audios, academic research and so on, but there are upcoming threats of possible introduction of restrictive IPR laws through harmonization of laws via trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Act (TPPA). This would lead local amendments to be similar to US law,  Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) and with it problems related to its abuse such as academic freedom to research or on freedom of expression via take down notices.

Similar extensions to copyright protection and recognition of software patents, could also result in restrictions for digital innovation. Laws and regulations that could allow Internet Service Providers to provide personal data without court order on issues related to copyright violations can also be threat to privacy.


Taking forward the discussion

There were also several recommendations brought up by the participants during the discussion to overcome the threats and gain public discourse.

Crowdsourcing feedback for TPPA

The idea of TPPA crowdsource is to bring up public discourse on the IPR chapter and call for policy lobbying via sub-webpage of IPR chapter on Bantah (Against) TPPA main website. In addition, we (Sinar Project) are currently crowdsourcing the TPPA-IPR Chapter’s documents for review and combining expert comments from local and international CSOs such as Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Knowledge Ecology International (KEI). With the comments and recommendations, we will prepare a policy brief to elected representatives to raise our concern.

There is time constraint to do this because there is only 90 days from 4 October 2015, which is the date government of Malaysia agreed on the agreement to be brought into parliament debate until the agreement to be signed. Limited time and resources are the obstacles to coordinate and communicate with stakeholders.

Digital security hub

The participants also raised the possible solutions to overcome the digital rights violations and circumvent censorship. Digital security hub suggested by the participants, to form a core team of technical and non-technical support persons, to provide digital security training including use of digital devices and software for at risk activists and CSOs. The hub will  also provide digital devices such as radio, walkie-talkie, computer and so on for the CSO’s programmes. It is the safeguards to overcome possible surveillance by government via digital devices tap-in and intrusion of internet and software. The idea is also building a trustworthy and sustainable CSO ecosystem, where the digital rights defenders come in to give advice and tech support to CSOs in need.

Security, privacy and control of personal data integrate into education system

After all, education system is the most important component to bring awareness to people especially for the younger generations. In the workshop, there were few participants suggested to integrate the knowledge of security, privacy and control of personal data into our education system. However, there are several barriers for this such as human resources. In Malaysia, we have lack of subject matter experts in the field of data protection law, IT and education.


Why should we defend digital rights?

Digital rights are human rights in this digital era. Privacy, personal liberty and freedom of expression are basic human rights. In the digital world, privacy is personal information and data, from which extensive personal profiles can be built. Lack of digital privacy provides powerful tools for personal political and economic surveillance by government.

With 80% Internet penetration rate, free expression in digital era is an increasingly important form of communication among. In Malaysia, government tries to limit free speech with justification of controlling hate speech online or harassment. But where are the boundaries and accountabilities? Independent online news portals are being censored, selected prosecution on opposition activists, members of CSO and journalists. There are no proper list of censorship or content guidelines in the board of multimedia and communication department. This lack of accountability requires constant oversight by CSOs.

Another disturbing trend it is increasing disparity between the penalties of on-line offenses as compared to the same offence offline. As an example, penalty for criminal insult is an MYR 100 fine, while lesser offence of annoyance online, the penalty is up to MYR 50,000 fine and 1 year jail sentence. This disproportionate penalties will have chilling effect on freedom of expression, but also on innovation.

Moving forward and call to action

To increase the awareness and knowledge of digital rights and security, we will continue to organise training workshop and discussion for all the stakeholders especially the communities at risk. We will share more details on future planning on digital rights and security actions. In the meantime, we welcome your ideas and contributions to make the movement happen.

Myanmar Elections: Live Results Map

by EM News November 26, 2015
Check out a live results map of the 2015 Myanmar election

Live results map by Eleven Media available here.

Journalism Workshop at University of Cendrawasih

by Kartika Pratiwi November 09, 2015
On 9 October 2015, an independent news portal trained Anthropology students from the University of Cendrawasih, West Papua, in the basics of journalism writing.

Cendrawasih Workshop

News reports on the conflict zone of West Papua are still mostly regulated by mainstream Indonesian media and though a ban on foreign journalists was lifted in May 2015, some independent media remain blocked. Reporters Without Borders have also recently expressed disappointment over the government's performance with regards to freedom of information and media freedom, especially in West Papua.

Officials claim concerns over "security", but the state of the media landscape there only restricts people from accessing factual, reliable information. Initiatives for citizen journalism, such as our Papuan Voices project and other workshops are vital to ensure that balanced news from the province. One such workshop was held on 9 October 2015, training Anthropology students from the University of Cendrawasih in the basics of journalism writing.

Angel from Tabloid Jubi, a local news portal, was invited to be one of the guest trainers. According to her, Papua has a low level of reading interest and so it's better to upload short articles where people can get all the information they need in a short time.

The participants were mentored to use key elements of journalism such as the '5W+1H' framework, how to consider the actuality, magnitude, target and impact of respective topics, and how journalism organisation is structured. The students were very enthusiastic during the workshop as they aim to start a student-led community for journalism in their faculty.

At the end of the session, the students were asked to work on short reports for practice. She added that before making them, they should prepare background information on their chosen topics, read several related articles and also develop a list of questions.

Tabloid Jubi continues to hold similar workshops across West Papua.

5 Days to Historic Myanmar Election

by Kyalyi November 10, 2015
The final heated days of campaigning is underway for Myanmar's general elections on 8 November, the country's first since 50 years of military rule. The big question on everyones mind: Who will be the next president of Myanmar?

As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) and the ruling,
army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) have gone head-to-head in recent weeks, a great number of smaller parties representing Myanmar's multiple ethnic minorities are also contesting the elections.

We've been working to curate and feature videos on this historic and challenging event, and here we highlight some reports from our local partners Kamayut Media, which may help provide a better understanding of the situation on the ground.

Suu Kyi Campaigns in Rakhine State

NLD signboards were destroyed in Rohingya-majority Rakhine State a week before Daw Aung San Suu Kyi began her three-day campaign there. Even if her party wins, she is barred by the constitution from becoming president, while a quarter of legislative seats are reserved for the military.

During her trip, Suu Kyi called for democratic change. "This country will be developed only when the system is changed. To change the system, we need to change the government.", she told the crowds present.

National Blueprint Advantageous for Arakan State

The Arakan Patriot Party’s (APP) leader, U Maung Maung Saw, believes that having a national blueprint to develop the Arakan State is an advantage his party has over other parties. Like the NLD, APP's signboards have also reportedly been damaged.

The party believes it will win all 16 constituencies that the party is contesting. Another powerful party in Rakhine is the Arakan National Party (ANP), which expects to win a majority of state and Union constituencies.

US Warns Myanmar to Behave

Ben Rhodes, one of US President Barack Obama's top aides, warned the Myanmar government that the use of religion in politics violates Myanmar's constitution and could lead to instability and violence.

Hardline Buddhist organisation, Ma Ba Tha, have organised anti-Muslim rallies in support of laws seen as targeting the country's Muslim minority, stoking communal tensions in the Buddhist-majority country just ahead of elections. The leader of the organisation has also declared that he will be voting for current president, Thein Sein.

Watch more video updates on the Myanmar election here.

Papuan Voices at the Univeritas Indonesia Film Festival

by EM News October 21, 2015
Some photos from the Papuan Voices II screening at the UI Film Festival, held at Kampus Indonesia University, Depok, Jakarta from 14-18 September 2015. The new event is presented by the University's Cinematography Club to showcase young and talented Indonesian filmmakers.

Students and Papuan guests entering the theatre.

Many students have been eagerly waiting to watch the films.

There was a vibrant Q&A session after the screening.

The audience packed the venue.

Karon, one of the Papuan Voices II alumni, received an appreciative gift from the organisers.

Karon shared his experiences during and after production.

Papuan Voices is a video advocacy initiative working with Papuan activists to more effectively tell their stories to the world. Watch the entire collection here.

Criticising the Pending Digital Laws in Thailand

by cheekay cinco October 19, 2015
Expert speakers at the Digital Laws Update, a public forum held in Bangkok, Thailand on 17 October 2015, presented their critique of pending internet laws in Thailand. The event was hosted by EngageMedia and the Foundation for Internet and Civic Culture.

Bangkok Digirights

Vagueness and Obscurity in the policies could pave the way to the abuse of civil rights.

According to the speakers, there are sections in the Computer Crimes Act where terms are not defined. For example, "ISP liability" does not define the different types of service providers, but rather has blanket and strict liabilities defined.

In Section 20 of the Computer Crimes Act which that tackles website blocking, the guidelines for what kind of content will be blocked is unclear. Ideally, according to one of the speakers, there is a process that needs to take place before a website can be blocked — the public complains about content that is against "public morality", the ICT Ministry reviews the complaints and decides if a website should be blocked, and then the case goes to court, which will then have the final say in censoring a website. In the current approved draft of the Computer Crimes Act, censorship of websites is now under the sole discretion of the ministry — with no course for appeal.

National Security posing as Cyber Security.

The Cyber Security Act, according to one speaker, conflates 'cyber security' — the protection of the data system which allows for secure transactions and communications — with 'national security', which is the protection of the state.

Furthermore, the act doesn't properly define what "critical infrastructure" means. In cyber security, "critical infrastructure" means the services necessary to run networks and to transmit data. This refers to "access providers", "hosting providers" , and "cache providers" as defined by European Union policies on cyber security.

In Thailand, the lack of definition, or the broadness in defining what "critical infrastructure" means results in the Cyber Security Act's scope extending beyond internet communications and networks, to include all communication channels in its purview.

More alarmingly, the Cyber Security Act requires the creation of a National Cyber Security Committee that monitors such communication channels with the primary goal of national security, rather than for the purposes of securing the data networks and systems to allow for business transactions to thrive.

The pending laws don't encourage a vibrant digital economy in Thailand.

The heavy obligations create a "self-censorship" environment for Thailand-based inernet providers. This results in Thai internet users opting for non-Thai providers, which in turn, impacts the digital economy in Thailand.

The pending laws endanger civil rights in Thailand.

These laws are vague and broad with heavy penalties for all providers and citizens, and their implementation rests of the sole discretion of the ministry and its committees. Committees that don't represent the Thai citizenry, according one of the speakers.

That will mean giving the state too much power over what citizens can publish online.

Talking about Digital Privacy with Indonesian Activists

by Dhyta Caturani October 19, 2015
In March 2015, EngageMedia partnered with Access and the Foundation for Media Alternatives to conduct RightsCon Southeast Asia, a digital rights conference that brought together 600 participants from the region and beyond. Over the three-day event, there were several side meetings to discuss country-specific issues and potential collaborations with regards to internet rights. One of the results of those meetings was an emerging Indonesian network of digital rights activists.

Following RightsCon, EngageMedia wanted to contribute by creating spaces for deeper conversations and strategies on pressing digital rights issues both at a national and regional level. One such meeting was conducted in Jakarta on September 28 2015 in collaboration with SAFENET, and Indonesian digital rights advocacy non-profit. The one-day round-table discussion included representatives from organizations working on issues such as policy advocacy, anti-corruption, youth issues, LGBT, women's rights, internet rights, and media freedom.

The discussion opened with a discussion on what digital privacy meant to the participants. Based on the trend how openly people share their private and personal information on the internet, we found that many people don't fully understand or care much about their privacy. The assumption was that people don't understand the dangers of releasing such personal information, although there are a number of recently reported cases of privacy breaches and abuse faced by those who use transportation applications such as Go-Jek.

Jakarta DigiRights

The second session was a brief presentation by EngageMedia on privacy, elaborating the concept of privacy, digital communication models, data, surveillance, types of privacy violationa, and the actors involved.

This was followed by representatives from ELSAM and WikiDPR on the draft bill on Privacy in Indonesia, some of its problematic content, and the challenging process of advocating on the bill. There are not many organizations or individuals at the event involved in advocating on the bill even though a lot of support from civil society is needed to get the bill "right" (one that actually protects the privacy of the citizens) before being passed and enacted. This is especially crucial given we have 16 regulations in various laws that allow authorities to conduct surveillance (tracking, digital conversation tapping and data retention) on citizens with or without court orders.

At the end of meeting participants agreed on taking up the issues collectively by setting up a working group that will share relevant information and knowledge and conduct shared to raise awareness and initiate action on digital privacy in Indonesia.