SAFEnet concerned new virtual police unit could create Orwellian State

CNN Indonesia – February 26, 2021
Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) Executive Director Damar Juniarto – Undated (CNN)

Jakarta – The Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) – an institution concerned with freedom of expression in the digital world – has criticised the newly established virtual police (VP) unit formed under the national police headquarters that is tasked with monitoring the activities of netizens.

The program, the brainchild of Indonesian police chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo, was [ostensibly] formed to prevent indictments under the Information and Electronic Transaction Law (UU ITE).

SAFEnet Executive Director Damar Juniarto is concerned however that instead of providing a sense of security the virtual police will in fact give rise to new fears. The reason being that virtual police officers will intrude too far into the private lives of citizens in the digital sphere.

"This will instead give rise to new fears, where the police can appear at any time in citizen's private [digital] space", said Juniarto when contacted by CNN Indonesia on Thursday February 25.

Juniarto said that it as if the virtual police are reviving an Orwellian State. The term Orwellian State refers to a system and public situation that is anti-freedom and anti-openness and is taken from a fictional work by author and journalist George Orwell.

One of the criteria for an Orwellian State is when the state continuously monitors what is being done by its citizens.

In such a situation, continued Juniarto, the state can directly correct citizens who are deemed to be in error. Instead of feeling protected, people will in fact feel threatened and fearful.

"[Evan] without this direct police presence, people are already afraid of the threat of the UU ITE [being used against them], never mind with methods such as this", he said.

Not only that, Juniarto emphasised that the virtual police negate the space for people to defend themselves if a posting on the internet is deemed to be hate speech or violate the ITE Law.

The virtual police, according to Juniarto, will in fact negate the judicial process so people will only have one option – to obey or be punished.

Juniarto revealed that the virtual police's presence have already turned people's discussions in digital space into something has to be treated or cured. He is also concerned that they will destroy the climate of discussion and debate on digital media.

"So the VP needs to be corrected so their implementation prioritises education, not appearing as a figure which wants to punish disobedient citizens", said Juniarto.

Earlier this week, the police officially launched the virtual police unit to monitor potential violations of the ITE Law on the Internet.

According to national police spokesperson Inspector General Argo Yuwono, the virtual police's presence in digital space is a form of maintaining security and public order so that activities in the cyber world can be clean, healthy and productive.

"Through the virtual police, the police will provide education and notifications if what is written is a criminal violation, request that it not be written again and be deleted", Yuwono told journalists at the national police headquarters in Jakarta on Wednesday February 24.

According to Yuwono, the virtual police have already sent warnings to three accounts recently. One of the accounts had posted a picture with the caption "Don't forget I'm a thief".

"Virtual police alert. Warning 1. The content on your Twitter account uploaded on February 21, 2021, at 3.15 pm local time has the potential to be criminal hate speech. In order to avoid further legal proceedings you are asked to make a correction to the social media content after you have received this message. Salam Presisi [predictability, responsibility, transparency, justice]", said Yuwono reading out the contents of the warning. (thr/nma)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "SAFEnet Kritik Aksi Virtual Police Terobos Ruang Privat Warga".]