Many who live in Indonesia have to rely on virtual private networks (VPN) to bypass the government's overzealous internet censorship that encompasses websites ranging from the largely inconspicuous like Reddit and Vimeo to – let's not kid ourselves – porn, but now there's talk that VPN providers themselves could be blocked in the near future if they don't fall in line with Indonesian regulations.
The Information and Communications Ministry (Kominfo) yesterday said that they will not hesitate to block VPNs that aren't licensed in Indonesia, using an argument that equates them with internet service providers (ISPs).
"The rule is that they must be licensed. VPNs are like ISPs in that they provide internet connections by way of users being connected to their servers. Whoever it is, we can just block them if they aren't licensed," Kominfo Applications and Information Director General Semuel Pangerapan told Kompas yesterday.
"If they want to operate in Indonesia, they can work together with existing ISPs so that they have permits."
We're not sure what the government is playing at here – do they want to validate the very things that are undermining their internet censorship regulations by licensing them? If so, why censor anything at all?
At any rate, Semuel said that there are actually existing regulations regarding VPN use in Indonesia but the mechanisms to enforce them are not yet clear. He says Kominfo is going to meet with the Association of Internet Service Providers in Indonesia (APJII) – who have more knowledge about the matter – to talk about a possible VPN provider ban.
VPNs recently came under the scrutiny of the government after authorities placed restrictions on social media during the May 21-22 election protests. At that time, the government argued that it needed to temporarily ban certain features of social media to contain the spread of misinformation and hoaxes that could threaten the country's security but many Indonesians turned to using VPNs to bypass the ban, causing a sharp increase in VPN downloads.
In response, the government warned that VPNs, especially the free ones, may pose threats to users' private data and that they should be uninstalled. Kominfo has talked about the possibility of issuing permits to legitimate VPN providers a couple of times over the past month but it's still not yet clear if, or when, such a regulation will materialize.