Fri, 03 Sep 2010

Indonesia’s technology minister has taken his battle against pornography to the maker of BlackBerry smart phones, ordering the Canadian company to block digital content in one of its key Asian markets.

It is the latest challenge in Asia for Research in Motion, which has come under intense pressure in India in recent weeks to give authorities access to data considered vital to police inquiries.

Minister Tifatul Sembiring summoned RIM officials this week to demand they help filter indecent material now accessible by roughly 1m BlackBerry users in Indonesia, said Gatot Dewa Broto, ministry spokesman. RIM officials declined to comment.

Mr Sembiring had initially threatened to shut down RIM’s services if his demands were not met, but his comments were softened on Thursday by Mr Broto. “They were too strong and there is no legal basis yet to do so”, he said.

But the issue over access to private data by government agencies is likely to gain significance in Indonesia in the coming months. New regulations governing online data are pending review by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Mr Broto said the government regulation would require foreign companies, such as banks and telecommunications companies like RIM, to set up data centres in Indonesia that can be accessed by government authorities.

“It enables us to filter and block illegal pornographic content on the Internet,” he said. Police and intelligence services will also be given a legal basis to “tap any information” required for investigations into corruption, or terrorism, he said.

Pornography is already illegal in Indonesia, a Muslim-majority nation of 240m people. It is nonetheless widely available on the Internet, where it is hugely popular. Black market DVD stalls at malls sell pornographic movies.

In August, Mr Sembiring ordered hundreds of online service providers to eliminate pornographic content by shutting down about 4m web sites deemed indecent. The idea has proven nearly impossible to implement because of technical hurdles.

The request for RIM to censor content is the latest confrontation in the sometimes rocky relationship between Indonesian officials and the smart phone maker. RIM has made major inroads in Indonesia, developing it into a core Asian market since selling its first handset in 2004.

Mr. Sembiring made similar threats of closure against RIM last month when India, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia expressed concerns about the data security, but no action ever followed.

RIM has been threatened with closure once before. In 2009 authorities demanded it establish a customer service centre. It complied this year.