Indonesia plans to block 30 million websites with new automated online censorship system

The Indonesian Government appears all set to take their online censorship regime to the next level after the countries IT Ministry confirmed that it was buying a new automated censorship system and planned to block at least 30 million new sites with it.

In August of this year, they had hinted that this was something they were considering after bemoaning the fact that they had only managed to block 800,000 websites using their existing manual techniques.

They claim that most of these are pornographic sites, but other types of content which are outlawed in Indonesia includes gambling, extremism, sexual education, and anything considered blasphemous under Islamic law, is also thought to have fallen foul of the law.

Antiquated manual system

Up until now, when the Indonesian Government wanted to block a website, they had to manually enter the URL of that site into their antiquated system. This is obviously slow, time-consuming and expensive to do, so it is perhaps a little surprising that they haven’t taken this step sooner.

But in an announcement made earlier this week, Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (Menkominfo) has confirmed that it will be spending IDR 211 billion (US$15.6 million) for a new automated system which will no doubt see the number of websites unavailable in Indonesia rise considerably once it comes online.

Interestingly, the Indonesian Government claims that no fewer than 71 companies bid for the tender to implement this new censorship scheme. In the end, the project was awarded to their own state-owned IT company, PT Industri Telekomunikasi Indonesia (PT Inti) in what was no doubt an open, fair, and transparent process.

It would nonetheless be interesting to see which western companies were interested in earning money off the back of selling an internet censorship system which will be used to suppress the online rights of the population of the world’s biggest Muslim country.

It is needless to say a dark time for online rights in Indonesia, a country which already has the world’s largest proportion of VPN users. But it could have been even worse.

The silver lining: No DPI

There were concerns that this new automated censorship system could employ Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), the tool so beloved by Chinese censors, which allows them to watch users’ Internet information in real-time, and eavesdrop of anyone’s online activity.

However, Samuel Abrijani, Menkominfo’s director general of informatics applications (APTIKA), has said in a statement that this is not the case and the new system will instead use a “crawling” system that would use keywords to analyse sites for illegal content. Of course, this will scant consolation for Indonesia’s internet users.

He went on to say that he hoped the new system would be able to quickly block as many as 30 million new websites, in addition to the 800,000 which are already unavailable.

He insisted these would be almost entirely pornography sites, but in a country where many normal practices are rendered illegal under Islamic law and minorities, such as homosexuals, are ritually discriminated against, most suspect the type of sites being blocked will be much broader.

More VPN users expected

The new system will not go live until towards the end of 2018, so Indonesians don’t need to worry about large sections of the internet becoming unavailable immediately. But it is going to happen, and VPN providers can expect another spike in users in the run-up to the new system starting to do its job.

Despite Indonesia’s determination to block access to millions of websites across the country, they have not yet taken any steps to stop the cheap and simple tool which helps their people get around these blocks. A reliable VPN such as IPVanish or ExpressVPN.

VPN use in Indonesia is high precisely because of its government’s censorship efforts. And far from stopping people accessing content, increased censorship will just result in increased VPN usage too.

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