by Al Sacco

BlackBerry in Indonesia: Censorship Slope a Slippery One

Jan 11, 2011
MobileSmall and Medium Business

RIM says it'll censor pornographic websites so it can keep operating in Indonesia. But the decision may have unintended effects.

Yesterday, BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM), responding to demands from an Indonesian government official, said it would censor pornographic material from BlackBerry smartphones in Indonesia by filtering out certain websites. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Indonesia are reportedly required by law to block pornographic online content, and by serving up such questionable content to BlackBerry users in Indonesia, RIM could be in violation of the country’s law.

BlackBerry Torch 9800 with Padlock (Image Credit: Brian Sacco)
BlackBerry Torch 9800 with Padlock (Image Credit: Brian Sacco)

If RIM wants to continue operating its BlackBerry service in Indonesia, where more than 2.5 million of its total 50 million BlackBerry-users reside, it must fully comply with Indonesian minister of communications and information Tifatul Sembiring’s censorship demands. RIM does not currently censor BlackBerry content anywhere else in the world, according to AFP.

RIM issued a statement yesterday saying it plans to work with Indonesia to resolve the issue. From that statement, via the Jakarta Post:

“RIM has been engaged with its [local] carrier partners and the government on this matter and continues to make it a top priority to implement satisfactory technical solutions with its partners.”

RIM and Indonesian government officials are currently set to discuss the matter on January 17, according to the IDG News Service. No deadline has been set for when RIM must comply with the Indonesian BlackBerry censorship demands.

While I will not say RIM’s censorship decision is right or wrong, I do find this news somewhat troubling. I’m an American, and I believe censorship is generally inappropriate, but that’s beside the point. Companies operating or offering services in Indonesia are subject to the country’s laws, and if RIM is in violation of those laws, it shouldn’t be allowed to operate within Indonesia borders.

However, RIM is already in talks with a variety of governments throughout the world, including India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, over the Canadian BlackBerry-maker’s ability to open up certain BlackBerry data to these governments due to security concerns. And RIM’s willingness to block pornographic websites in Indonesia looks to the outside world like a concession to the Indonesia government.

Other governments watching the scenario play out could see this “concession” as further evidence that they too should push RIM to comply with whatever demands they see fit–you can bet any and all countries with similar pornography-censorship laws will be knocking on RIM’s door in the not-so-distant future.

And the BlackBerry-maker could soon find itself in a position in which it must comply with unreasonable demands, or be seen as cooperative with only the governments it chooses. Needless to say, the back-and-forth, and possible BlackBerry service disruptions, that could result from such a scenario would be a nightmare for RIM and many of its BlackBerry users across the globe.


Al Sacco covers Mobile and Wireless for Follow Al on Twitter @ASacco. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Al at