Indonesia's War on Porn
Image Credit: Flickr / M lobo

Indonesia's War on Porn

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Last month, Indonesian Communication and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring announced on Twitter his disappointment over the failure of Research In Motion (RIM), the company that owns BlackBerry, to filter pornographic content in Indonesia. He warned that Indonesia would block BlackBerry’s browser if RIM wouldn’t censor access to porn within two weeks.

It’s unfortunate that Tifatul’s unique Twitter ‘press conference’, which itself was a newsworthy event, was overshadowed by his threat to BlackBerry.

It’s hardly surprising that Indonesia is conducting a war against porn—the country has strict anti-porn laws and the government from time to time reportedly empowers the police to conduct surprise raids in schools to check if students are storing pornographic materials on their mobile phones. Tifatul’s crusade is also understandable on a personal level when you consider that he also blamed immorality for a major earthquake that killed more than 1000 people in Indonesia two years ago.

Still, netizens couldn’t understand why RIM, which is a handset maker and not a service provider, had to be dragged into the anti-porn campaign. More puzzling was the government demand for RIM to shape up in less than a month or else face being closed down in Indonesia altogether. This kind of provocative policy statement doesn’t help efforts to encourage investors to put their money in Indonesia.

Perhaps sensing lack of public support for his latest morality crusade, Tifatul clarified that porn filtering isn’t the only issue with RIM, and he went on to issue additional demands if RIM wants to continue operating in Indonesia: It should open a representative office in Indonesia; it should open a service centre in the country; it should hire more local workers; and it should use local content and software.

On the surface there’s nothing particularly unusual about these kinds of demands—any government is duty bound to protect its country’s own interests. But IT experts have pointed out that these ‘patriotic’ demands by the Indonesian government have already been met by RIM. For example, RIM inaugurated its Indonesian representative office in October 2010. It already has more than a dozen service centres in the country, and is hoping to have 30 centres later this year. In addition, RIM reportedly only has two expat managers, with the rest of its workers being Indonesian citizens.

Yet despite apparently trying to do things right since it started operating in Indonesia, RIM has decided not to challenge the demands put forward by the government. Indeed, it has agreed to filter pornographic content by adopting the Nawala Project, a local software filtering system (although blogger Rob Baiton has warned that this filtering system is very broad, which means that even harmless sites could be blocked from BlackBerry devices).

In the end, it seems, RIM chose to prioritize its profit margins over the consumer rights of its two million subscribers in Indonesia.

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