Indonesia’s Communications Ministry Blocks Vimeo, Claims It’s a Porn Site

On Sunday Indonesians on Twitter discovered that Telkom Indonesia had begun to block access to video site Vimeo. While the block doesn’t seem to be affecting all customers, a number of complaints had arose and the move was confirmed by Telkom CIO and director of innovation and IT solutions and strategic portfolio Indra Utoyo.

Vimeo, unlike YouTube, is primarily a site for video makers to showcase their portfolio. Videos on Vimeo tend to skew towards the artistic persuasion, short features, animations, and festival nominations. Suffice to say that the quality and styles of the videos that are found on Vimeo are generally very different to the ones on YouTube.

Indra Utoyo said on Twitter that the directive to block Vimeo had come based on the instructions of TRUST+, a section of the Communications and Informatics Ministry that had been tasked to seek out and protect the Indonesian Internet from websites that do not conform to Indonesian values. Utoyo said that on the mailer from TRUST+ to Indonesian ISPs dated 9 May 2014, Vimeo had been included along with dozens of sexually-oriented websites to be blocked.

Communications minister Tifatul Sembiring verified this claim on Twitter saying that the team at TRUST+ reported that Vimeo contains explicit pornographic content and therefore sent out a notice to all ISPs and telecommunications providers informing them that Vimeo has been included in the ministry’s blacklist.

kominfo-vimeo-1According to Semmy Pangerapan, chairman of the Indonesian ISP Association, the organization never received the instruction letter that was said to have been sent to all Indonesian ISPs and that not every ISP has received it by Sunday. Through its official Twitter account, the ministry denied that it had ordered to block Vimeo and attached a screenshot of the website but the statement has since been deleted.

As of this morning, many Internet subscribers on Speedy and @wifi.id, two of Telkom Indonesia’s ISPs, are still able to watch videos on Vimeo but there are others who can no longer visit the website to watch or upload videos including through the mobile apps.

Not the first time
This isn’t the first time Vimeo has been blocked by Telkom. Back in March 2013, access to the site was forbidden by the state-owned telco and the ban applied not just on Speedy but also on Telkomsel, the mobile carrier partially owned by Telkom. While access was restored over a week later, there was no explanation at that time as to what caused it, though it’s not difficult to imagine what it was.

Vimeo admittedly does have a range of videos that are of adult in nature, and some with sexually suggestive themes but unless Vimeo visitors know exactly what they’re looking for, such as the name of the account, the direct link, or title of the video, they are unlikely to show up on the regular search. Vimeo is far from being a porn site.

If sexually suggestive or explicit videos form the basis of the recommendation from TRUST+, then perhaps it should cast a wider net and recommend that the entire Internet be blocked from Indonesia because porn exists on it. Yes, there are useful, non-porn content and information that are available online, but the fact remains, porn is also available on the Internet and therefore by the very same logic that drove Trust+ to instruct Indonesian ISPs to block Vimeo, it should instruct them to ban all access to the Internet.

Questionable TRUST+
With regards to TRUST+, despite being a section within the ministry which deals with public information, there doesn’t seem to be a publicly available list of the people running this section, only that it is operating under the ministry’s directorate general of informatics application, currently headed by former secretary general of the communications ministry, Ashwin Sasongko.

Head of ICT Watch Donny Budhi Utomo said that there’s no accountability to the Internet blacklist that the ministry holds as there’s no transparency as to the submission and consideration behind the inclusion of the domains or addresses. He also said that if TRUST+ can easily decide for itself what sites are deemed positive or negative without clear procedures and references, “it’s practically an abuse of authority”. The lack of publicly accessible references for consideration makes the entire process questionable at best and bordering on illegal. It also flies in the face of Indonesia’s position as the chair of Open Government Partnership.

Utomo also questions the nature of the TRUST+ team whether it’s actually made up of government employees within the Communications Ministry or external resources hired for this purpose. For a team that has been given an authority to determine public Internet accessibility, it must go under public supervision otherwise there is the serious danger of it being used for political purposes.

Request for restrictions
Following the backlash on this issue, Minister Sembiring has said that the ministry is in communication with Vimeo asking the company to prevent sexually oriented videos from being shown in Indonesia. According to the minister, a similar request was previously made to YouTube with a favorable response. As for lifting the ban off Vimeo, it can only be done if TRUST+ has removed the site from its blacklist and inform the ISPs about the change as part of its procedures.

In April 2008, access to YouTube was blocked for roughly one week in Indonesia for hosting Fitna, a movie deemed offensive to Muslims. The ban was lifted following outrage by Indonesian Internet users and a collective decision by Internet providers that they would restrict access specifically to the movie itself and not a wholesale ban against sites on which the movie was hosted.

Update: Vimeo claims it has received no such communication from the Indonesian Communications and Informatics Ministry

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