Internet shutdown in Myanmar as civilian leader gets detained

Internet Shutdown
Internet shutdown in Myanmar as civilian leader gets detained

Internet service providers are also called to keep users’ data for up to three years and provide it “for the sake of national security”.

When the civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi was detained, the military of Myanmar ordered for four temporary internet shutdowns, which started on February 1 2021, the day of the putsch.

The country has endured internet blackouts and blocked some social media sites, while a draft cyber security bill has been floated as the military coup happened earlier this month.

Tech experts, rights groups, and citizens are worried about these lightning-quick moves by the new junta that the internet-hungry Myanmar will soon be as cut-off as during the previous military regime.

Information in the recent days has twice been throttled for eight hours overnight, which monitoring group NetBlocks said brought internet connectivity down to 15 per cent of normal levels.

Also, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, on which an online campaign to oppose the coup was gaining stream, have been blocked.

Until about 2013, Myanmar did not have internet easily available, when international communication companies entered the market, offering affordable sim cards.

Australian cyber security expert Damien Manuel from Deakin University told AFP that one possible explanation is that the regime is using the time to analyse data to track down targets for arrest.

The regime could be borrowing from China’s playbook on creating a state-monitored firewall to control information flows, said But Warren of Melbourne’s RMIT University.

He said, “The Chinese model is an example of how a (government) can control a population online”, adding that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Vietnam have similar but less sophisticated measures.

The military’s internet shutdowns could be characterised as “ad hoc”, regardless of the reason.

Warren said “They’re reacting to the situation. They didn’t have a plan to control the internet as soon as the (coup) happened”.

It has stroked fear into people’s heart.

Yangon resident Win Tun, 44 said, “They can do anything they want (during the shutdown) so we have to protect our streets”.

Myanmar netizens have managed to skirt the social media blocks by using virtual private networks, in terms of getting online.

A 7,200 per cent increase in local demand for VPNs was reported by Top10VPN, a UK-based digital security advocacy group, after Facebook being banned on February 4 2021.

Samuel Woodhams of Top10VPN told AFP, “As VPNs provide a means for citizens to bypass restrictions; authorities will often restrict them to ensure their internet shutdowns are effective”.

He added that there had been reports of VPN services being blocked in Myanmar, although it was unclear exactly how many had been affected.

“It shows the determination of the government to restrict citizens’ access to information and freedom of expression”, Woodhams said.

Draconian new laws have been proposed by the military junta, which gives them sweeping powers to block websites, order internet shutdowns, and restrict the dissemination of what it deems to be false news.

Internet service providers are also called to keep users’ data for up to three years and provide it “for the sake of national security”.

Norway based Telenor expressed alarm over the draft law’s “broad scope”, which in recent weeks has had to comply with temporary internet shutdowns at the regime’s direction.

The bill has also been denounced by the Myanmar based civil society groups, private companies and its manufacturing and industrial association. Their concerns range from human rights to worries that a business-friendly environment could be stifled.

Human Rights Watch’s legal advisor Linda Lakhdhir said, “Myanmar’s proposed cybersecurity law is the dream of despots everywhere”.

“It would consolidate the junta’s ability to conduct pervasive surveillance, curtail online expression, and cut off access to essential services”.

The law grants leaders unprecedented power to censor citizens, says Asia Internet Coalition, a group of the world’s largest internet companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Apple.

The coalition said, “This would significantly undermine freedom of expression and represents a regressive step after years of progress”.

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