Democratic Internet Content Governance and Protecting Freedom of Expression

ELSAM,  Makassar – The mechanism of blocking  internet content in Indonesia still causes a lot of issues. The practice and mechanism of resolving two recent issues regarding the blocking of the messaging service app, Telegram, as well as Giphy.com, the web content maker, shows that there is no legal uncertainty in these cases. This matter re-emphasizes the potential of blocking the wrong target which could be a threat for freedom of expression and the right to search for information on internet.

In order to extract the data for the research themed “Diagnostic Study of Internet Content Governance in Indonesia”, the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) on 20 – 24 August 2017 held series of data extraction activities in Makassar. Furthermore, in order to confirm the field findings, ELSAM also held the focus group discussion by inviting numbers of key informants on Thursday, 24 August 2017.

At least there were three issues that has been discussed in the focus group discussion; definition of internet content, the authority and mechanism of blocking the internet content, and the responsibilities of the intermediaries.

Almost all the research informants, including those who participated in the focus group discussion, agree and aware that there was a delay in legal response regarding the regulation of internet technology in Indonesia, which also includes the internet content terminology that eventually, causes the mess of the internet content governance. For example, the obscurity of the online media content regulation which initially was based on non-internet connection.

So far, there is no regulation that governs the content of cable TV and streaming radio broadcast which both use the internet connection. The Broadcasting Law only governs the conventional channel,” explained Anwar Hasan, the South Sulawesi Chief of Information Commission, who used to be a member of Indonesian Broadcasting Commission of South Sulawesi, in the focus group discussion.

The expansion of internet content definition will influence the terms of negative content which is feasible to be blocked. All this time, the terms of restricted content are spread on numbers of regulations in Indonesia. According to Anwar, the definition related to negative content could not be a sole interpretation done by the government. The sole definition of ‘negative’ by the government will give a threat to people’s freedom of expression and their right for information in a democratic country. Anwar emphasized, ‘The limitation of internet content has to be done democratically. One way to do so is through the court mechanism.

As an effort to anticipate the sole definition of negative content explained above, the informants recommend the existence of an independent institution that could assess the feasibility of the internet content to be later categorized as a restricted content or not. This independent institution has to stand outside the government, and consists of the interest group representatives as well as the civil society. With this independent assessment, it is expected that the internet content blocking mechanism, which is a part of the restriction on the right to information, could be in accordance with the Human Rights and democracy principles.

According to Fajriani Langgeng, the Director of South Sulawesi Legal Aid Institute for Press, the notifications or the clear reasoning of the blocking practice should be available in each blocking mechanism. “The notification of the reason behind the blocking practice either done by the Government or by the court, will be a lesson learned regarding digital literacy as well as a form responsibility toward the society”, said Fajri in the focus discussion group.

This issue is also a reminder of internet blocking position in Indonesia law, of which the blocking practice is not imposed to criminal sanction but it is only imposed to administrative sanction.

As mentioned by Hambali Thalib, the lecturer at the Law Faculty UMI Makassar, “In the criminal act, there should be a perpetrator who did the crime. The blocking practice is not imposed to criminal sanction but administrative sanction. Therefore, in terms of the blocking on the radical contents, it is aimed as a countermeasure so that radicalism is not spread further “.

In the local context, the government of Makassar has not had the related program of internet content restriction for its residents. However, in launching the Smart City concept, the city government has a program to observe the use of social media by the Makassar City residents. According to the government, this program is implemented as an analysis to formulate the policy in answering the people’s needs.

We observe the trending topic discussed in the social media, for example, the term ‘begal’, or the flooding or the broken streets. Therefore, referring to those discussion, we could immediately anticipate them“, explained Hamzah, one of the members of Ministry of Communication and Information Makassar City Government.

Responding the current challenges in the use of internet technology, the participants of the discussion also emphasized the literacy importance for Indonesian. This is to avoid the involvement of the society in cyber crime or hoax which has not been fully regulated in the national law. The responsibility of the spread of digital literacy could be conducted strategically by the government as well as app service providers. [ ]

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