Lawmaker supports police plan for WhatsApp mass surveillance

Tempo – June 16, 2019
Institute for Criminal Justice Reform Executive Director Anggara Suwahju (Liputan 6)
Institute for Criminal Justice Reform Executive Director Anggara Suwahju (Liputan 6)

Andita Rahma, Jakarta – The deputy chairperson of the House of Representatives’ (DPR) Commission I, Golkar Party politician Satya Widya Yudha, supports a plan by the National Police (Polri) to monitor chats on WhatsApp message groups. This, he said, will be done to prevent the spread of fake news.

“I support Polri’s efforts if it is intended to prevent hoaxes and acts of incitement”, said Yudha when contacted on Sunday June 16. Nevertheless, according to Yudha, the police need to involve the National Cyber and Encryption Agency (BSSN).

Yudha explained that Commission I paid a visit to the WhatsApp offices in Washington DC in December 2018. At the time, he said, they asked if WhatsApp and Facebook could screen the content of fake news or hoaxes. “They said they would try, but it hasn’t been optimal”, said Yudha.

Earlier, the National Police Criminal Investigation Cyber Directorate said it plans to monitor WhatsApp groups. The police justified these “patrols” by saying that it would only be done for WhatsApp groups where there are indications that they are spreading fake news or hoaxes.

The police’s move to implement cyber patrols was triggered by the arrest of a suspect – identified only as 32-year-old YM from Depok – for spreading hoaxes through a WhatsApp group.

Police allege that YM spread hoaxes about a discussion between Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan and Indonesian police chief General Tito Karnavian.

The hoax was made to seem as if Panjaitan and Karnavian were fabricating a case involving an alleged assassination plot targeting senior government officials by former army Strategic Reserves Command Chief of Staff retired Major General Kivlan Zen.

Unlike Yudha, Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) Executive Director Anggara Suwahju opposes the police’s plan. He says that the police are not authorised to monitor WhatsApp.

“They’re not allowed to do this, because the object will be everyone”, said Suwahju when contacted on Sunday. Suwahju said that this kind of monitoring will lead to mass surveillance which could intrude into the private sphere.

Suwahju said that the investigation of a WhatsApp group can only be done is evidence of a crime or legal violation is found first. “There must be indications of a crime”, he said.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Wakil Ketua Komisi I DPR Dukung Polri Pantau Grup WhatsApp”.]