Myanmar has long had a system of censorship and extreme restrictions on the use of the internet. Over the years, these oppressive regulations have kept citizens from accessing content critical of the Military Junta-led government, blocked social media sites and limited access to news sources. Furthermore, Myanmar’s internet is monitored and filtered by more than 100 filtering tools developed by several large tech firms and affiliated political organisations. This has resulted in numerous human rights violations including free speech and lack of privacy for average users.
These limits go back decades to when the army first gained power in 1962, but started receiving more attention in recent years when restrictions increased during the government’s nationwide Internet shutdown during civil unrest in 2019. Since then, further steps have been taken to reinforce their grip over online communication with new laws passed early this year that penalise merchants who provide users with unapproved online services and block access to entire websites without a court order. Additionally, two private companies are tasked with monitoring critical or offensive social media content towards the government or military forces. Yet, despite growing awareness of Myanmar’s troubling cyber practices inside and outside its borders, many citizens remain unaware or powerless against this overt repression of their freedoms online as communication continues to be heavily monitored and censored by state actors.
Myanmar’s Internet Restriction Extended
Internet restrictions in Myanmar have become increasingly stringent in recent years. As the country attempts to control the information available to the public, access to certain sites and services has been severely limited or blocked. This article will provide an overview of the current state of the Internet in Myanmar, including a brief history of the restrictions imposed and their impacts.
History of Internet Censorship in Myanmar
Since the start of the Internet in Myanmar in 2000, its usage and availability have been tightly monitored and regulated by the Myanmar government. All online activity surfaced to a government-run body, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), which reviews content and openly censors news websites deemed critical of the ruling military junta.
Censorship has been enforced primarily through two mechanisms— website blocking and general internet regulation including on Twitter and Facebook—which are used to tightly control public opinion and other forms of media. In addition to explicitly blocking websites, technical restrictions are placed on users using IP or domain name system (DNS) filtering. This allows authorities to prevent access to sites without having to reveal that they are purposely banning them.
Internet throttling has also been used to reduce user access speeds and intermittently disrupt service altogether, as happened after an election in 2015. Despite attempts made by pro-democracy advocacy groups, including articles 8(b) written into the 2008 constitution which protects free speech online, internet censorship persists today with more extreme monitoring during times of political instability such as demonstrations led by largely youthful protesters who are voicing their discontent on social media platforms.
Recent Internet Restrictions in Myanmar
The restrictions on the internet in Myanmar have increased significantly in recent years, putting it among the world’s most repressive cyber environments. Internet and mobile users are routinely subject to a wide range of restrictions, including blocking access to social media sites, unlawful surveillance, arbitrary censorship and punishment for expressing dissenting views online.
In 2016, outrage over a brutal military crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya people encouraged a resurgence of protests from inside Myanmar. This wave of protests brought an increase in internet censorship under the guise of ‘national security’. The country’s telecommunications regulator began issuing notices instructing mobile companies and ISPs to block content that opposed official government narratives or spread ‘hate’ between different ethnic groups. In some instances services and connections have been completely shut down by order of military leaders instigating localised blackouts during sensitive periods or with political aims.
The shutdowns have become more frequent since late 2018 when state-led violence erupted against the Rohingya minority group, leading to an international outcry. However, content remains frequently blocked to this day, especially those relating to dissent towards military activities or reports about human rights violations by armed forces within the country. According to research conducted by multiple organisations such as Freedom House, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, these reports are often partially restricted or censored both inside Burma (Myanmar) and abroad due to directives from both state and non-state actors influencing media operations within the country.
Impact of Internet Restrictions on Myanmar’s People
In response to the Myanmar military’s ongoing coup, the government of Myanmar has implemented internet restrictions and extended them to the entire country. The internet blackout has had a significant effect on the people of Myanmar. It has impacted access to information, services, and communication. This article will discuss these restrictions’ impact on Myanmar’s people.
Social and Political Impact
The social and political impact of internet restrictions in Myanmar is far-reaching. Government-imposed restrictions have blocked critical services, censored essential information and crippled access to essential communication tools. This has meant limited access to education, healthcare, employment opportunities and financial services for citizens living in Myanmar. Citizens have also been subjected to unnecessary surveillance by the government and military forces for expressing opinions online.
The current internet restrictions are heavily impacting human rights and democracy in Myanmar, including the right to freedom of expression which is a critical part of having a free society. The heavy censorship has made it difficult for citizens to express their opinions on controversial topics such as the military’s alleged attacks on civilians in Rakhine State and the ongoing Rohingya genocide or even topics considered ‘sensitive’. With limited access to information online, news outlets cannot accurately provide impartial coverage on important issues that could otherwise contain key facts that could shape public opinion or expose wrongdoing by the government or armed forces.
Additionally, with limited access to foreign websites, international organisations cannot offer timely humanitarian assistance and monitor how aid money is being used to ensure it benefits those most affected by violence or poverty. As communication channels between people become increasingly restricted due to blocks imposed on certain social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, there is reduced ability for people’s stories from areas affected by conflict or disasters to reach large audiences who were previously able to lend their voices in support for more aid or attention from global partners. This lack of access restricts people’s freedoms which can further entrench long standing societal divisions within the country.
The economic impact of internet restrictions in Myanmar has resulted in a decrease in overall economic growth and restricted access to education and opportunity for many citizens. In addition, with the introduction of the Telecommunications Law in 2013, the government could restrict access to certain websites, slowing down the speed of internet connections and even blocking access entirely. This has made it difficult for businesses to function and reach out to potential customers through online networking and e-commerce activities.
Furthermore, stifling internet connections has led to a decrease in tourism spending, which contributes significantly to Myanmar’s economy. Businesses have had difficulty engaging with potential customers abroad due to connection issues or blocked sites, causing many tourists who might have visited Myanmar’s rich cultural sites that are not available elsewhere to choose other destinations.
Internet restrictions also limit access to education opportunities from citizens within Myanmar, hindering their ability to acquire important skills or courses necessary for better employment opportunities. For instance, local businesses find it difficult or impossible for employers to connect with potential employees outside the country due to blocked content and slow speeds. Ultimately this leaves those living inside Myanmar stuck with little assistance from global trade and labour markets since these resources are unable to close off when there is an abundant amount of talent looking for work at home.
International Reactions to Myanmar’s Internet Restrictions
The internet restrictions imposed in Myanmar in the wake of a military coup have drawn international attention and condemnation. In recent weeks, the internet has been cut off for long periods, typically at night, leaving many citizens without access to news and information and depriving businesses of communication and other services.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has described the bans as “a violation of basic human rights”, noting that it disrupted critical services, hindered economic activity and restricted access to information.
The United States Embassy in Myanmar released a statement condemning “the shutting off [of] access to social media sites and websites” calling on authorities to “immediately restore access to these important sources of free expression and accountability.”
Similar statements were issued in Australia, Canada, Germany, the European Union and Japan, among others. For example, the European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell tweeted his concerns about ‘the disruption of internet services in #Myanmar’ after “witnessing first-hand its impact on ordinary people’s everyday lives.”
Various technology companies have responded to Myanmar’s censorship by offering integrations with Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), allowing for secure Internet access even when using mobile devices or computer networks subject to restrictions. Venerable VPN providers like NordVPN have recently added an entire region-specific solution: NordVPN Myanmar Edition – an optimised selection based on server locations preferred by Myanmari Internet users from inside the country. However such workarounds are not available everywhere within Myanmar’s borders as villagers often do not have regular or reliable access to these tools due to lack of landline or electricity infrastructure – further emphasising just how essential open Internet connectivity is for development within this emerging economy.
In conclusion, the government of Myanmar imposes complex and restrictive laws on access to the Internet. Through a combination of technical tools, national data laws and general decision-making, the government of Myanmar can exercise a high degree of control over its citizens’ digital lives. As the country continues to grow and modernise, likely, these restrictions will only increase in complexity.
The situation requires vigilance from citizens and foreign governments, who may need to continually evaluate whether engagement with Myanmar remains beneficial given Chinese influence over its digital ecosystem. For Myanmar to move forward as a democracy and an economic power, it must open itself up further through increased access to communication networks that enable civil society initiatives and public discourse among citizens. The prospects for this are unclear at present but can only be unlocked by increasing freedoms online and offline.
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