Geopolitics in Internet Governance in Indonesia: Not Apart from the Influence of Hegemony and Political Elites

The development of the Internet in Indonesia is not separated from the influence of geopolitical factors in internet governance in Indonesia.

The development of the Internet in Indonesia is not separated from the influence of geopolitical factors in internet governance in Indonesia. Internet governance does not only discuss fibre optics, data centres, and others but there are components within a system that are interconnected and cannot be separated, requiring complex coordination between the government and private sectors, not to mention cross-border actors. The internet has been rapidly expanding worldwide thanks to initiatives by the United States (US), but its highly dominant influence puts pressure on the sustainability of the Internet globally. This pressure takes the form of responsibility for internet supervision being allocated to international bodies such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations (UN) so that internet governance that is ad hoc, decentralized, and distributed becomes more legitimate. However, this allocation of supervision is dangerous because the nature of the Internet system will become centralized and rigid as it is controlled by governments. This pressure raises questions about the sustainability of the internet because the fate of the internet in the future may be fragmented, develop unevenly due to areas that are not connected, or develop evenly. However, what allows the current state of the internet to exist side by side is that one component of the internet is neglected, becomes dominant, and can even lead to the collapse of the entire system, and currently many parties are experiencing one of these conditions (O’hara and Hall 2018).

  • Data Governance as an Example

One of the Internet governance aspects that is equally important in Internet components is data, whether it’s personal data, group data, and others. Indonesia, as a developing country from the global south, has become a new target for the expansion of US Big Tech in boosting its digital economy. Global South countries, including Indonesia, which have experienced a void in data governance, are urged to adopt existing data governance within the international order, but data governance is influenced by international commercial interests, domestic politics, and power relations among countries, one of which is the significant influence of US Big Tech expansion. Both US-based Big Tech and the European Union (EU) have clever strategies to entice new users by providing free internet access, although they aim to exploit raw data from global south countries to develop into the latest digital products that will be sold again. This is certainly dangerous as it can lock the flow of future data for developing countries, especially global south countries, in competing with developed countries whose technology companies have spread worldwide if they do not regulate data governance properly to compete (Hicks 2021).

  • Response to Big Tech

The most appropriate way to respond to the influence exerted by Big Tech is by reforming the tax system and data localization. This tax reform is hotly discussed within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with about 130 countries involved, and almost all agree on a ‘digital service tax’ to ensure that technology companies do not evade national tax obligations for their commercial activities by placing their physical activities in the host country, including Indonesia implementing it. Another approach used by China, India, and Russia is to leverage the influence of Big Tech to support domestic digital products such as China’s Baidu, Russia’s Yandex, and India utilizing it to develop digital infrastructure from the data obtained from citizens. Data localization is a policy used to reclaim economic rights over data generated by its citizens. Governments regulate domestic data production to be stored in data centers located near the host country because so far data from Big Tech is stored in locations based in the US and Europe without knowing the origin of the data. This is done as a firm action on ‘data sovereignty’, and India actively develops and promotes data localization. Additionally, the US actively defends Big Tech and opposes these methods (Hicks 2021).

  • Competition in Controlling Data

Data, as an extremely valuable asset for both economy and security, has sparked competition to control its production and distribution. Economically, Big Tech companies from North America and China dominate the list of the world’s largest companies by market capitalization. Meanwhile, in terms of security, it is closely related to Snowden’s revelation about numerous individuals being targeted for surveillance by the US, triggering widespread protests, and similar tactics regarding mass data collection carried out by European countries, albeit on a smaller scale. The mass data collection by European countries contradicts the EU’s inclination towards individual data security rather than state security, now famously known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (Hicks 2021).

  • Influence of Hegemony on Indonesia

Each international actor has its own way of handling data issues, initially triggered by the business expansion of Big Tech, making data patterns move beyond business matters and into the realm of international relations, political economy, and international development. The most influential international actors in terms of data governance policy are referred to as the data empires, consisting of the US, EU, and China. The US Empire does not impose restrictions on cross-border data flows; instead, it enters into trade agreements to develop economies of scale, and data coverage, and prohibits data localization measures that support trade. The EU has made the protection of personal data its top priority, believing that by building trust, individuals will feel comfortable with companies using their personal data. Lastly, the Chinese empire’s policy not only restricts the flow of data and information across borders but also within China. This policy is aimed at maintaining social stability and the power of the Communist Party, while also aiding sectors in need of knowledge such as artificial intelligence (Hicks 2021).

Hegemonic actors, as ‘rule-makers’ who already have their own data governance, exert pressure on other countries, especially developing countries like Indonesia, as ‘rule-receivers’ to choose one empire that can provide benefits. Should Indonesia choose rule-based on trade agreements, market access restrictions, or even authoritarian types for data governance as one component of internet governance? As a developing country, Indonesia certainly experiences many international data flows due to the large number of Indonesians using the internet as a geopolitical opportunity to negotiate data localization with Big Tech (Anam and CNBC Indonesia 2022; Annur 2023). However, Indonesia must have the capacity for electrical and internet infrastructure, as well as competent human resources. If negotiations proceed to international organizations, it will be difficult to reach agreements due to friction between developed and developing countries, such as the rejection of data localization by the US and the EU, which leads to increased production and increased consumption by developing countries. From this perspective, negotiations are better conducted bilaterally after discussions in international organizations are completed. Considering these factors, Indonesia can develop data governance policies that are most appropriate, but examples from hegemonic countries should not be ignored (Hicks 2021).

  • Internet Governance in Indonesia

Policies in internet governance, including data, are regulated in the ITE Law and the new PDP Law recently enacted, which are not exempt from the influence of hegemonic actors such as China, the US, and the EU, where they have actively regulated various aspects of internet governance. But the question arises: which way is Indonesia leaning? Looking at the content of the ITE Law and the PDP Law, the ITE Law tends to lean towards China, which embodies an authoritarian type, but in the Indonesian context, if the ITE Law is misused by domestic political elites to silence freedom of expression in the digital realm. In essence, the ITE Law considers the religious and socio-cultural values of society, prohibiting acts such as distributing obscene videos, online gambling, defamation, extortion and threats, spreading fake news, hate speech, and online terrorism (CNBC Indonesia 2022). Equally important is the careful use of the ITE Law by involving experts in the field of IT because not all parties in the legal field understand it, and the fear is that it may lead to authoritarian internet governance.

Meanwhile, the PDP Law tends to lean towards the EU, which is firm in managing personal data responsibly and without harming others (Wibawana 2022). However, there are still some aspects that need to be improved in the PDP Law, such as which institutions are authorized to use the law to prosecute those who violate the PDP Law because during implementation there will certainly be institutions overseeing all actions taken by various parties in their digital economic activities; to what extent these institutions have the authority to use the PDP Law is a key issue to be evaluated. Additionally, the delineation of legal scope between individuals and institutions is important to clarify because individuals and institutions certainly have different abilities to process and control data (Arditya and Nugraha 2021).

Indonesia’s task in improving internet governance still has many areas that need to be addressed, both technically and in terms of regulation. Internet governance is not just Indonesia’s issue; all countries in the world are striving to improve their internet governance. The influence of hegemonic countries on Indonesia cannot be ignored because they are advancing more rapidly in determining internet governance and technological development as well. Indonesia must not blindly accept the influence of hegemony and must not be controlled by domestic political elites. Coordination among relevant stakeholders in Internet governance is necessary to ensure that internet governance benefits all parties involved and does not harm any one party. Some aspects of Internet governance that Indonesia needs to address and improve include cybersecurity regulations, electronic transactions, online freedom of expression, privacy and surveillance, and the Internet of Things (Shafira 2021).

Rizki Faisal Ali
Rizki Faisal Ali
Student in Master of International Relations Universitas Gadjah Mada