A law allowing the Indonesian government to censor “problematic” online content has raised further concerns over freedom of speech in Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy, as global tech giants accede to authorities’ requests to avoid a total ban on their services. Indonesia ’s Ministry of Communications and Information passed a law in 2020 requiring home-grown and foreign electronic service providers to register their businesses on the ministry’s Online Single Submission-Risk Based Approach licensing system, a database that will allow Jakarta to closely monitor the country’s digital space. Under the law, Indonesian authorities can request digital platforms to take down content that it deems “disturbing and causing public disorder” within 24 hours from receiving an order, or four hours in urgent cases. ‘Democracy at risk’: Indonesia row over controversial criminal code heats up The law also granted authorities the power to request access to the digital platforms’ system or users’ personal data for criminal investigations, without a court warrant. Failure to comply with these requests will result in a letter of reprimand, fine, or access blockage to the company’s services. Public backlash over the law has been swift and sharp, particularly from civil organisations and internet users. An online petition by Jakarta-based digital rights advocacy group Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFENet) has received over 11,000 signatures calling for the rejection of the regulation due to its “rubbery articles” that threaten freedom of speech and data privacy. Nenden Arum, head of freedom of expression division at SAFENet, said: “The ministerial regulation can violate our freedom of expression because the article on content censorship is very repressive. This can be used to silence critics [of the government] as we don’t know what the authorities’ definition of disturbing content is.” She gave a beauty clinic a bad review online. In Indonesia, that can be a crime Responding to This Week in Asia, Semuel Abrijani Pangerapan, the ministry’s director general for informatics applications, said the ministry would only take down digital content deemed “very disturbing and very unsettling”. “For example, recently a religious leader made fun of another religion’s holy book. It became viral and caused public disorder. This is the kind of content that we see as disturbing … there is no ‘rubbery article’,” he said. He assured the public that his ministry would always provide “strong evidence” and “legal basis” before filing a request to remove an online content. Pingkan Audrine, a researcher at non-profit think tank Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS), pointed to a lack of mention in the law allowing companies to question or deny authorities’ request to access their systems. “There should be a provision that if the companies do open their system to the authorities, it is done out of necessity. We also need certainty that the users’ rights will not be abused in the process,” she said. Teguh Arifiyadi, acting director of informatics application governance at the ministry, said that authorities will only seek access to the platforms’ system and user data if law enforcement requires them for an ongoing criminal investigation. Platforms can also reject the request, he said. Some of the articles laid out in the regulation are violating the platforms’ own policies, for example, the content moderation and users’ privacy Nenden Arum, SAFENet Global technology companies have boosted their investments and operations in Indonesia in recent years, eager to establish a foothold in Southeast Asia’s largest digital economy. This has made them more likely to cave to governmental pressure and requests. “Some of the articles laid out in the regulation are violating the platforms’ own policies, for example the content moderation and users’ privacy. This looks like digital platforms prioritise their business interests ahead of their users’ rights,” said SAFENet’s Nenden. Indonesia’s internet economy is estimated to be valued at US$146 billion in 2025, up from US$70 billion last year, according to joint research by Google, Temasek Holdings, and consultancy Bain. This year, some 77 per cent of Indonesia’s population of 270 million have gone online as of June, according to Indonesia’s internet service providers association. Repressive laws on digital platforms could hinder Indonesia in achieving its digital transformation ambition, particularly in bringing 30 million small and medium enterprises online, Pingkan of CIPS said. Jeff Bezos among billionaires eyeing Indonesia’s US$44 billion digital economy “Many micro, small, and medium businesses rely on digital platforms such as WhatsApp for Business or Instagram to be able to reach a wider market. If these platforms are blocked, the government’s target to digitise small businesses will also be hindered.” As of Thursday, 8,276 electronic service providers have registered on the system. This included 207 foreign platforms, such as TikTok, Twitter, YouTube and Meta’s Facebook , Instagram and WhatsApp. The registration deadline was extended to July 20 after it was postponed for over a year from extended preparation to launch the online registry. “We will send them a letter to warn them to finish registration in five working days. If they don’t complete it by then, we will start the blocking process,” said Semuel Pangerapan from the communications ministry. Companies required to register include social media sites, search engines, messaging applications, video sharing platforms, online games, financial technology services and cloud service providers. The ministry said that popular services yet to register include online game platform Roblox, web browser Opera, social media LinkedIn, digital payment service PayPal, and e-commerce sites Amazon and Alibaba . Alibaba Group is the owner of the South China Morning Post .