Indonesian MR5 law prohibits access to many online services, including Steam, Epic Games and PayPal

In context: We have seen a trend in which many Western countries are passing laws protecting online privacy and the civil rights of Internet users. However, there is another tendency to do the exact opposite in more repressive countries. Indonesia is the latest to tell online services to hand over customer data and censor messages they say or otherwise.

Over the weekend, Indonesia banned several websites for failing to comply with a new law. The law, dubbed Ministerial Regulation Number 5 or MR5, requires “private electronic system providers” to register with the Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Information (Kominfo) and transmit specific user data. The law also requires companies to remove content that “disturbs public order” or that the Indonesian government deems “illegal”. Companies must respond to removal requests within 24 hours or four hours for “urgent” content.

So far, Kominfo has blocked eight services and games in the country, including Yahoo, Steam, DOTA2, Counter-Strike, Epic Games, Origin, Xandr and PayPal. However, the PayPal ban had an unintended negative consequence for customers, as it effectively locked them out of funds in their accounts. Reuters notes that Kominfo responded quickly to concerns by temporarily lifting the ban.

“[PayPal users] can access the site until August 4 to migrate, get their money and find other services,” said Kominfo Managing Director Semuel Abrijani Pangerapan.

Reddit users are reporting that Steam and Epic Games accounts are completely shut down and some of their purchased titles are unplayable. However, Valve is currently working to register in the Kominfo database to restore service to its customers in the region as soon as possible. He wants to avoid losing two of his most important sources of income – DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike.

Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, TikTok, Twitter, Netflix and Spotify are other companies that have already bent the knee to Indonesia’s repressive law. The Financial Times notes that these companies registered last week and all remain active in the region. Pangerapan said the bans aren’t permanent as long as companies obey the law. Once a service has registered with Kominfo, the country will lift its suspension.

Indonesia is not alone in enacting draconian legislation such as MR5. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) notes that Germany got the ball rolling in 2017 by passing its “NetDG” law. NetDG requires online service providers to block or remove content the government doesn’t like, and it doesn’t even require a court order. Since then, Venezuela, Australia, Russia, India, Kenya, the Philippines and Malaysia have passed similar legislation.

As effective as these laws seem, that doesn’t make them any less tyrannical.

“Failure to comply with these requirements subjects companies to draconian fines (and even raises the specter of having their services blocked),” the EFF said in 2021 when Indonesia jumped on the authoritarian bandwagon. “This creates a chilling effect on free speech: platforms will naturally choose to err on the side of removing gray area content rather than risk punishment.”

The EFF believes that MR5 and other similar laws constitute a pervasive violation of human rights. The EFF, SAFEnet and several other consumer watchdogs sent a letter to Kominfo asking it to repeal the unfair law and its “invasive content moderation rules”.

However, it will likely take more than an open letter from a handful of human rights organizations to undo the country’s takeover. Such oppressive regulations can usually only be affected when other countries threaten sanctions, which has not happened with similar laws.

Image credit: Nick Youngson

Veronica J. Snell