In the context: We are seeing a trend where many Western countries are enacting laws to protect Internet privacy and the civil rights of Internet users. However, in countries with more repressive regimes, there is another tendency to do exactly the opposite. Indonesia is the latest to order online services to hand over customer data and censor the messages they say or whatever.

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Indonesia blocked several websites over the weekend for failing to comply with the new law. The law, dubbed Ministerial Decree No. 5 or MR5, requires “private electronic system providers” to register with the Indonesian Ministry of Communications and Information (Kominfo) and transfer user-specific data. The law also requires companies to remove content that “disturbs public order” or that the Indonesian government considers “illegal”. Companies must respond to takedown requests within 24 hours, or four hours for “urgent” content.

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Kominfo has blocked eight services and games in the country so far, including Yahoo, Steam, DOTA2, Counter-Strike, Epic Games, Origin, Xandr, and PayPal. However, the PayPal ban had an unintended negative effect on customers by effectively blocking access to the funds in their accounts. Reuters notes that Kominfo answered quickly on problems, temporarily lifting the ban.

“[PayPal users] can access the site until August 4 to migrate, get their money and find other services,” said Kominfo CEO Semuel Abrigani Pangerapan.

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Reddit users report that Steam and Epic Games accounts are completely malfunction, and some of the games they bought can’t be played. However, Valve is currently working on registering with the Kominfo database in order to restore service to its customers in the region as quickly as possible. The company wants to avoid losing two of its biggest revenue streams, DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike.

Other companies that have already bowed the knee to Indonesia’s repressive law include Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, TikTok, Twitter, Netflix and Spotify. The Financial Times notes that these companies registered last week and everyone remains active in the region. Pangerapan said the bans are not permanent as long as companies comply with the law. Once the service registers with Kominfo, the country will unsuspend it.

Indonesia is not alone in passing draconian laws such as MR5. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) notes that in 2017 passage its “NetDG” law. NetDG requires online service providers to block or remove content that the government doesn’t like, and doesn’t even require a court order. Since then, Venezuela, Australia, Russia, India, Kenya, the Philippines and Malaysia have passed similar laws.

As effective as these laws may seem, that does not make them any less tyrannical.

“Failure to comply with these requirements entails draconian fines for companies (and even threatens to block their services),” EFF said in 2021, as Indonesia joined in the authoritarian victory. “This creates a chilling effect on freedom of expression: platforms will naturally choose to err on the side of removing gray content rather than risk punishment.”

The EFF considers MR5 and other similar laws to be an aggressive violation of human rights. EFF, SAFEnet and several other consumer watchers sent a letter to Kominfo asking to repeal the unfair law and its “invasive content moderation rules”.

However, it will probably take more than an open letter from a handful of human rights organizations to stop the country’s power grab. Such repressive rules can usually only be influenced when other countries threaten sanctions, which has not happened with similar laws.

Image credit: Nick Youngson