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Indonesian telecom firms told to ‘come clean’

A shopper looks at mobile phones at a shop at Ambassador Mall in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Bloomberg)
A shopper looks at mobile phones at a shop at Ambassador Mall in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Bloomberg)
The Indonesian government is looking into whether local telecommunication service providers were involved in the alleged attempt by Australian spies to bug the phones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle.

Communications and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring summoned on Thursday executives of the country’s 10 cellular operators to his office, giving them a one-week deadline to conduct internal investigations.

“For now, we will let them look at their own firms first. This tapping issue has become a very sensitive issue. If the operators are then proven to have played roles in the tapping, they will be charged under the 2008 Information and Electronic Transactions Law,” Tifatul announced after meeting with the telecommunication executives. “I have also asked the operators to check the possibility of employees being involved. After, we will also run checks on the operators’ software systems to check for the presence of any spyware such as ‘backdoor’ or ‘botnet’,” he said.

Tifatul said operators were legally allowed to intercept communication for law enforcers such as the Corruption Eradication Commission and the National Narcotics Agency.

The minister also asked the operators to heighten security and protect the privacy of their users, particularly the president, Vice President Boediono, ministers and other high-ranking officials. Indonesia and Australia are currently locked in a diplomatic row following reports that Australian intelligence tried to tap the cell phones of the president, First Lady Ani Yudhoyono, Vice President Boediono and some cabinet members in 2009.

Tifatul said it was possible that mobile phone operators were involved in the attempt. “Among the numerous possible methods to intercept cellular phone communications, the most well-known ones involve providers,” he said. The 10 companies whose executives present at the meeting were Telekomunikasi Indonesia (Telkom), Telekomunikasi Selular (Telkomsel), XL Axiata, Indosat, Bakrie Telecom, Smart Telecom, Smartfren, Axis Telekom Indonesia, Sampoerna Telekomunikasi Indonesia and Hutchison 3 Indonesia.

Abdus Somad Arief, Telkomsel’s network director, said his company was ready to conduct an audit and provide full clarification reports within a week. “I believe our company has done business lawfully. We have updated our security annually according to ISO standards,” he said.

Arief said the company would also delve into records of the company’s employees to make sure no one was involved. “I can say that there is no mole, because we implement tight screening in hiring employees,” he said. PT Indosat CEO Alexander Rusli said that his company felt that “looking forward is better than lingering on the past”.

“We should focus on what to do next,” he said, adding that wiretapping was nevertheless, “unethical”.

“In the future, we should come up with mechanisms to better encrypt telecommunication as a way to improve security,” he further said.

He added that the mobile operator was “ready to work with the government” on looking into the incident.

BlackBerry Indonesia managing director Maspiyono Handoyo added that every country had different levels of awareness on security.

“The news on what has happened will build this awareness,” he said. He added that BlackBerry had made security a “core competitive advantage” because enterprise services had become critical for the company.

By Bagus BT Saragih (The Jakarta Post)