Indonesia’s new ‘virtual police’ out to warn ITE law violators

Photo: Paul Hanaoka/Unsplash
Photo: Paul Hanaoka/Unsplash

Mind what you post online, because the National Police has launched a Virtual Police division that is out to warn internet users who violate the country’s Information and Electronic Transactions Act (UU ITE).

UU ITE has been a hot topic in Indonesia recently after President Joko Widodo called for revisions to the problematic law, which critics have long said has been used as a tool of oppression due to its ambiguous articles on hate speech, defamation, and blasphemy.

While the government continues to mull revisions to UU ITE, the National Police, headed by recently-appointed Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo, has gone ahead and launched the Virtual Police in order to suppress the number of prosecutions under the controversial law.

“Through Virtual Police, the police will educate and inform if a post breaks the law, and to urge the party to not post anything like it again and remove it,” National Police Spokesman Argo Yuwono told reporters yesterday.

Yes, this means that the Virtual Police will slide into your DM if you post pornographic, libelous, or hoaxes online. Argo said that if users don’t comply, the Virtual Police will continue warning them to take down an offending post and that enforcement of UU ITE will only be exercised as “a last resort.”

“The National Police is not limiting the people’s freedom of speech and right to opinion, but we want to educate people if they break the law,” Argo said.

Members of the House of Representatives (DPR) have praised the Virtual Police initiative, with one lawmaker calling it a “genius” solution that does not curb freedom of expression.

SAFEnet, an NGO that works to protect freedom of speech in Southeast Asia, does not share the police and DPR’s enthusiasm for the Virtual Police.

“This country could turn into a police state if [internet users] act inappropriately and get a direct message from the police. This is more scary than before — it’s a new threat. In the previous mechanism [of UU ITE], the people were already afraid to voice their opinions. And now the police can knock on your door virtually,” Damar Juniarto, who chairs the Indonesian chapter of SAFEnet, told Coconuts today.

“Furthermore, the Virtual Police does not give room for one to make their defense, because everything goes one way. People who are warned will not be able to state their case. For instance, with hoaxes, we have seen the police and the government enforcing false standards for what constitute a hoax. Is there no other way than to erase what is accused to be a hoax post?”

Damar said the establishment of the Virtual Police and other developments related to UU ITE ever since President Jokowi called for its revision may suggest that fixing the controversial law may not be among the government’s priorities right now.

Do you buy the justification for the Virtual Police or is this just another form of online policing that may pose a threat to our freedom of speech? While sharing your opinion is still allowed, do let us know what you think in the comments section below.

This story was updated to include the statement from SAFEnet Indonesia Chairman Damar Juniarto.

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