EngageMedia Blog

Digital Freedom and Privacy Under Attack in Indonesia

by Yerry Nikholas Borang January 10, 2016
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.