Indonesian police started patrolling online on Thursday, monitoring social media content posted by its citizens. The new unit was formed to reduce crime related to the Electronic Information and Transaction Law (UU ITE), which includes cyber defamation. Operating under the Criminal Investigation Agency (Bareskrim) of the national police, it has already sent warnings to 12 social media users on multiple platforms, said Police Brigadier General Slamet Uliandi, head of the cybercrime division, to local media on Thursday.
Uliandi provided more details on how the unit will work. First, it will monitor platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others. If it encounters content, such as texts, images, or videos, which might violate UU ITE, the officer will take a screenshot and consult with a team of experts skilled in criminal law, languages, and IT.
If they deem that the content might violate the law—being a defamation or baseless accusation—an officer will send a warning via direct message. That warning contains details of the problematic post, date and time, along with a recommendation to delete or amend it. If the user refuses to heed the advice, the harmed party can file a police report.
The Indonesian government has voiced its plan to launch a virtual police department since December. At the time, the coordinating political, legal, and security affairs minister Mahfud MD said that the unit will focus on battling hoaxes, as reported by local media Kompas.com. Apparently, during the implementation, its scope widened to defamation and other comments that can cause public disorder.
Damar Juniarto of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) told KrASIA that the virtual police is the latest attempt of the authorities to curb digital freedom. “We can see it from the perspective of the government which is trying to take control of the cyberspace,” he said.
Legal grey zone
Furthermore, it violates digital privacy. “It’s like you’re chatting with your friends in a coffee shop, then the police suddenly barge in and tell you to stop talking,” Juniarto explained. “What we are seeing now is the emergence of a digital panopticon, the specialty of an Orwellian state, that looks in all directions and quickly corrects actions of its citizens which they deem inappropriate.”
Digital freedom in Indonesia already passes a bleak moment. Previously, the police only acted when there was a report. Now they can come to peoples’ doorsteps anytime. Juniarto further added that the accused don’t have the chance to protect themselves by denying, or to lawyer up like in court procedures. They either obey or face consequences, he said.
There are other battlegrounds that would need urgent action of a virtual police including activities such as online scams, doxxing, phishing, and malware, which are rampant in Indonesia. The Indonesian government and police, however, create the impression that public opinion is much more dangerous than actual crime.