Big Brother Watch: when faith-inspired coercion goes to far in Indonesia

Aug 3rd, 2010, in Opinion, by

From the New York Times:

Last month, the country’s information minister, Tifatul Sembiring, said that local service providers would have to start blocking online pornography by the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which starts Aug. 11.

Unfortunately, the article goes on to report:

Mr. Sembiring says the plan will work, and in time for the fasting month. During an interview, he said that service providers would adopt a government keyword filtering system known as Trust Positif, which is already in use in many of the government’s computer networks.

A keyword-based system! Riyadi is quoted in the article as estimating a performance impact of 20 to 30 percent, but nobody seems to have brought up the privacy impact of this move.

For a system used in government networks, this is fair enough — employees do not have much expectations of privacy when at work. But a system that would actually have access to every page you surf on the Internet? Does Big Brother really have a right to know what books you read, what messages you send to your friends on Facebook, etc.? In an age where the line between private, group and public communication gets increasingly blurry, and in a society where people mass-forward things, disregarding the intent of the original sender (victimizing people like Ms. Prita), do we want civil servants to now have the ability to do this as well?

Not to mention, this is so laughably circumvented on sites that support the HTTPS protocol — where data is encrypted between server and browser, and the proxy server only sees this encrypted stream — or if you just translate the terms to some other languages that Big Brother did not think of.

Mr. Riyadi said the way forward would be for the government to put together a list of blocked addresses, a laborious process that would involve tens of millions of restricted pages.

That is equally ineffective, naturally, but at least it’s less intrusive, and the onus would be on the government’s side to spend the money on keeping the list.

If you’re in Indonesia, and in fact, wherever you are, I’d recommend going HTTPS as much as possible. Gmail now uses HTTPS by default, and there is a little-known URL for accessing Facebook securely.

9 Comments on “Big Brother Watch: when faith-inspired coercion goes to far in Indonesia”

  1. David says:

    Here’s the Trust Positif thing – interesting they’ve decided to go with a home made solution for this, something that looks like it was commissioned by a government department, I really shudder to think.

    On https, Google just recently provided for that as well –

  2. deta says:

    Don’t worry, David. If they decide to apply the keyword filtering system, there is still a chance that they put “sex” and “porn” as the blacklisted keywords, but forget to put the words “interc***se” and “nude” on the list 🙂

  3. Michel S. says:

    Speaking of keyword-based censorship, which Google actually does as well by default (though you can turn it off), here’s a commentary by a senior correspondent from The Atlantic magazine, on Internet censorship. The excerpt from the adult film director is surprisingly erudite and well-argued.

  4. Michel S. says:

    Not that surprising, when one thinks long term — Russia and France are trying to develop “national” search engines, and China had an abortive experiment in forcing computer manufacturers to pre-install a filtering system on their PCs.

    China’s was a rather ill-thought plan — the software turned out to be blatantly pirated from a US company, nobody thought of people who do not run Windows (despite Hu Jintao’s son being in charge of the government-sponsored Red Flag Linux, and the upper-middle-class flocking to Macs as in other countries)…

  5. deta says:

    If you see the time button, you will see that I did talk about David shuddering 🙂

    Yes, I think this keyword filtering system will be annoying to some people as not all people using certain keywords with the same purpose a porn-addict does.

  6. David says:

    Yes most of the big traffic in Indonesia is sex related keywords, this is the most viewed stories on Kompas:

  7. Michel S. says:

    Yup, sorry. The blog is configured to show the most recent comment first, which is confusing unless you post the comment by replying to the previous comment 🙂

    Edited my comment already.

  8. alfiesaden says:

    hi – is it just me !! can any one explain why when i type in the bing browser “” i get a different site yet whe i type it in google its ok? could this be a bug in my system or is any one else having same probs ?
    alfie saden

  9. Michel S. says:

    No idea, really. Try using your browser’s anonymous browsing facility (in Chrome it’s “incognito”; Firefox and IE call it a different name) so that the search results are not personalized, and search again? I get the same site on both Bing and Google, and anyway once you have the site URL why use a search engine?

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