Indonesia introduces new Internet censorship system

The Sudirman business district in Jakarta. Indonesia is set to implement a new $14 million Internet censorship.system. (Reuters)
Updated 05 January 2018
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Indonesia introduces new Internet censorship system

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry is set to implement a new $14 million Internet censorship system from Wednesday. The new system will automatically block pornography and other content deemed to be unsuitable by the government, following years of manual monitoring which has failed to adequately police the abundance of illicit online content.
The ministry’s Information Applications Director General Semuel Pangerapan said the machine is equipped with artificial intelligence that will crawl websites and use keywords to detect inappropriate content.
“After the content is crawled, our team will evaluate and verify the data,” Pangerapan told Arab News. “We will then block sites that are validated as carrying negative content. This machine will make our
jobs a lot faster.” The new system will enable the ministry to identify a range of negative content referencing topics from gambling, terrorism, fraud and drugs, to hoaxes and fake news, he added.
The ministry cooperates with related government agencies including the national counterterrorism agency (BNPT) to examine extremist material, and the national anti-narcotics agency (BNN) to detect content related to narcotics.
The new system began its trial run on Dec. 29, and reportedly crawled 1.2 million sites, detecting 120,000 with negative content, over the weekend. Pangerapan said the ministry has set a target of blocking access to at least 10 million out of an estimated 30 million websites with explicit content.
Pangerapan dismissed concerns that the government would use the new system to monitor citizens’ online activity, saying it was not designed for surveillance or for monitoring online conversation.
Jamalul Izza, chairman of the Association of Indonesian Internet Providers (APJII), told Arab News that pornographic websites rank first on the government’s list of negative content, followed by hoax and fake news.
Izza said APJII members have always complied with government requests to block access to certain websites. “This machine will make the system work better and faster,” he explained. A 2016 survey showed there were 132.7 million Internet users in Indonesia, which has a population of 256 million. As many as 129 million users used the Internet to access social media platforms, with Facebook being the most visited (71.6 million users).
Dedy Permadi, director of the Center for Digital Society at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, said the machine would be a good solution for the government in its attempts to block access to negative content.
In the past, he said, the most “worrying” content found was “pornography and online radicalism.” “The government detected and blocked websites that provided information on how to make bombs,” Permadi explained. He said the less-sophisticated technology that the ministry previously used had only managed to detect 700,000 sites with offensive content over the past few years, so the new system’s performance is a notable step up.


New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope

Updated 24 May 2019
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New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope

  • The election of Lori Lightfoot as mayor gives Chicago’s Arabs an opportunity to reverse the damage that Rahm Emanuel has caused
  • Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained against

Plagued by ongoing controversies and criticism that he tried to hide a video of Chicago police killing a black teenager in October 2014, Rahm Emanuel decided he had had enough as the city’s mayor and decided to retire.

Elected in 2011 with a big boost from his former boss, US President Barack Obama — also a Chicago native — Emanuel served two full terms.

But his hopes of reversing the city’s tumbling finances, improving its poorly performing schools, and reversing record gun-related violence and killings, all failed.

However, Emanuel did have one success. He managed to gut the involvement of Chicago’s Arab-American minority in city-sponsored events, responding favorably to its influential Jewish-American community leadership, which complained about Palestinian activists who advocated for statehood and challenged Israeli oppression.

Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained included photographs of Palestinians protesting against Israel. The festival had only been launched four years earlier by his predecessor in 2007.

Emanuel also disbanded the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs, and ended Arab American Heritage Month, which had been held every November since it was recognized by Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor.

Emanuel refused to discuss his reasons for these decisions with leaders of Chicago’s Arab community.

He declined repeated requests by me to interview him, despite my having interviewed seven Chicago mayors. He declined similar requests from other Arab journalists.

While he hosted iftars for Muslims, he never hosted an Arab heritage celebration during his eight years in office.

His father was a leader of the Irgun, which was denounced as a terrorist organization in the 1940s by the British military.

The Irgun murdered British soldiers and thousands of Palestinian civilians, and orchestrated the bloody Deir Yassin massacre on April 9, 1948.

Before becoming mayor, Emanuel volunteered at an Israeli military base repairing damaged vehicles. His pro-Israel stance was never challenged by the mainstream US news media.

But with the election in February of Lori Lightfoot as mayor, Chicago’s Arabs have an opportunity to reverse the damage that Emanuel caused.

Lightfoot was sworn into office on Monday and serves for four years. She has already reached out to Arabs, appointing at least two Palestinians to her 400-person transition team, whose members often remain and assume government positions with new administrations.

The two Palestinians in her transition team are Rush Darwish and Rami Nashashibi. Darwish has organized several successful marathons in Chicago and Bethlehem to raise funds for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Nashashibi is involved with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN).

As an African American, Lightfoot knows what it is like to be the victim of racism, stereotypes and discrimination. That makes her more sensitive to the concerns of Chicago’s Arabs.