According to Reporters Without Borders, the arrangement may also facilitate monitoring of users and hacking of private accounts, as MITM (Man in the Middle) attacks and DNS spoofing can be targeted at the civilian user network without risking security breaches for military accounts.There are a number of official institutions tasked with ICT development and management, including the Myanmar Computer Science Development Council, the eNational Task Force (e-NTF), the Myanmar Computer Federation (MCF), and three associations—the Myanmar Computer Professionals’ Association (MCPA), the Myanmar Computer Industry Association (MCIA), and the Myanmar Computer Enthusiasts’ Association (MCEA). However, these entities are not particularly active, or exist only on paper. In practice, the regime uses intelligence agencies and the Information Ministry to implement its generally arbitrary and ad hoc censorship decisions.
Nilar Aye, “Current Status of PKI Development in Myanmar,” The Workshop on CA-CA Interoperability Framework in ASEAN August 5-6, 2010, http://www.gits.net.th/Documents/CACA_Interoperability_ASEAN/CA_Workshop_2_8_10_Myanmar_updated.pdf. Xinhua news, however, noted as “the Myanmar Teleport (previously known an Bagan Cybertech) and Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications”, “Myanmar Internet link continues to meet with interruption,” November 3, 2010, Xinhua News, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90781/90877/7187341.html.
Ye Kaung Myint Maung, “Nation’s First Cyber City Takes Shape,” Myanmar Times, December 24–30, 2007, http://mmtimes.com/no398/n001.htm.
Author’s interview with an official at the Information Ministry who asked to remain anonymous, July 27 and December 30, 2010, and Reporters Without Borders, “National Web Portal Development or Repression” Burma, November 2010, http://en.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/rap_birmanie-2.pdf.
BURMA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net LIMITS ON CONTENT The government blocks political websites and media sites run by the Burmese exile community that are critical of the regime and its activities. The government attempts to block most sites containing words it considers suspicious, such as “Burma,” “drugs,” “military government,” “democracy,” “student movement,” “8888” (a reference to the protest movement that began on August, 8, 1988), and “human rights.”30 YTP blocks almost all Burmese exile and foreign Burmese-language media outlets and blogs, as well as the sites of dozens of foreign newspapers and television networks. It also blocks the websites of international human rights groups. Often, sites are temporarily available only to be blocked again later, and the strength of enforcement apparently varies over time and among the ISPs.31 According to an engineer from MPT’s data and communication department, the company receives lists of URLs, updated weekly, from an army major responsible for web censorship. Following Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest in November 2010, the authorities issued orders barring the publication of interviews with her in print or online.For blogs whose links are not blocked, the regime has been known to intimidate bloggers to remove certain content. For instance, blogger Win Zaw Naing, was ordered by police to remove certain photographs and articles related to the September 2007 protests, although his blog remained accessible in Burma throughout 2008 and 2009.33 In addition, the Press Scrutiny Board is known to order news outlets to delete from their websites articles that have been barred from publication in their hard copy versions. However, the government does not appear to have issued any instructions for websites to censor the comment sections beneath articles, one of the main spaces in the online sphere where open and critical discussions take place.
In 2009, after several internal documents, photographs, and video material— including footage showing the construction of underground tunnels and a top general’s secret trip to North Korea—were leaked to exile news media, the junta prohibited civil servants in key government ministries from using the internet without authorization from a director-level officer.34 The government also instructed at least two deputy ministers to head inspection teams that have since launched surprise checks for any unauthorized Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Burma,” in 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Washington, DC: U.S. State Department, March 11, 2010), http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/eap/135987.htm.
“Burmese Blogs Blocked Again After Available for Four to Five Days” [Myanmar Blog Myar Pyi Twin Hmar Lay Ngar Yet Pwint Pi Hma Pyan Pate Soet Khan Ya], Radio Free Asia, January 6, 2010, http://www.rfa.org/burmese/news/blog_freedom_lasts_few_days_only-01062010115747.html.
“Local Media Barred from Publishing Suu Kyi Interviews”, The Irrawaddy Online, December 17, 2010, http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.phpart_id=20340.
Reporters Without Borders, “Another Blogger Arrested for Posts about Saffron Revolution,” IFEX, November 16, 2009, http://www.ifex.org/burma/2009/11/16/blogger_arrested/.
Aung Thet Wine, “Internet Use Limited in Government Ministries” [Wongyi Htar Na Myar Twin Internet Thone Swel Hmu Kant Thet], Irrawaddy, September 10, 2009, http://www.bur.irrawaddy.org/index.php/news/1785-2009-09-10-09-25-20.
BURMA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net downloads of government data at ministries in Naypyidaw.35 All computers at ministry offices have been password protected, and staff members must make official records whenever they use a computer. Applications that are not necessary for work-related activity were removed from the ministries’ computers, reportedly leaving many machines as little more than word processors.The junta also set up a “Blog Supervising Committee” in every government ministry in late 2007, and instructed civil servants to write pro-government blogs to counter outside bloggers and foreign or exile media, and to attack democracy activists like Aung San Suu Kyi with abusive language.37 Implementation of the initiative has been inconsistent, but as of December 2010, several such pro-junta blogs remained active.
Harsh prison terms and the selective enforcement of laws such as the Electronic Transactions Law encourage self-censorship, which is common among most internet users, although expression in online comment features where posters can remain anonymous is relatively free. Negative reporting about top military leaders and their family members, or about China (for instance, the news of a jailed Chinese dissident winning the Nobel Peace Prize), are particularly sensitive topics on which users routinely exercise self-censorship.Prior to the September 2007 protest movement, most ordinary bloggers in Burma focused on personal matters and living conditions. After the protests, however, many grew more explicitly political and funneled news and visual content to foreign and exile media.There are now over 10,000 blogs in Burma’s blogosphere. According to an October survey conducted inside Burma by interviewing 5,076 respondents, blogging was the fastest growing aspect of Burmese internet use in 2010, registering a 25 percent increase from 2009.40 According to another survey conducted by blogger Nyi Lynn Seck in 2009, about percent of Burmese bloggers write from Burma and 48 percent write from abroad. Some percent of bloggers are 26 to 30 years old, and 29 percent are 21 to 25 years old. About percent blog in Burmese, while 8 percent blog in English and 10 percent write in both “Surprise Inspections Launched at Ministries Due to Information Leaks” [Thadin Paukkyar Hmu Myar Jhaut Wongyi Htar Na Myar Go Shaung Ta Khin Sit Say], Radio Free Asia, August 31, 2009, http://www.rfa.org/burmese/news/investigation_teams_formed_for_news_leaks-08312009153614.html.
Confirmed in interview with staff member at the Myanmar Port Authority, December 2010.
“Ministries to Write Blogs as Counteroffensive” [Blog Phyint Tont Pyan Yan Wongyi Htar Na Myar Ko Tait Tun], Mizzima News, July 15, 2008, http://www.mizzimaburmese.com/archive/1414-2008-07-15-10-55-17.html. The most prominent progovernment blogs are located at http://kyeesaytaman.blogspot.com/, http://padaukmyay.blogspot.com/, http://tharkinwe.blogspot.com/, and http://myanmartodayblog.blogspot.com/.
The only local news journal to report on the award was the Weekly Eleven which did so under the headline “China Criticizes Norway for Awarding Liu,” October 11, 2010, http://newseleven.com/index.phpoption=com_content&view=article&id=5329:2010-10-10-16-34-26&catid=49:asia&Itemid=118.
Observers noted that the censors allowed its publication because the report emphasized the negative angle of the story. “Junta Restricts Nobel News,” The Irrawaddy, October 12, 2010, http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.phpart_id=19709.
“Blogging Increases 25% Within A Year” (Blog Yay Thar Hmu Ta Nhit Ah Twin 25 Yar Khaing Hnoan Toe Lar), Internet Journal, December 17, 2010, http://myanmarinternetjournal.com/local-news/2647-2010-12-17-04-31-29.
BURMA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net languages. The rest use ethnic minority languages such as Kachin, Karen, and Chin.41 In addition to blogs focusing on personal issues, politics, and entertainment, a number address religion, technology and the internet, and literature, among other topics. The blogging platforms they use include Blogspot (77 percent), WordPress (20 percent), Xanga, Ning, Tumblr, and others.42 These platforms are banned in Burma, but the use of proxy servers and other circumvention tools is reportedly common.Users regularly share information on useful proxies and other technical knowledge, and have organized gatherings, such as BarCamp, with the permission of the regime.44 As noted above, some cybercafes provide assistance on how to access banned services like Gmail, and they often ignore users who visit exile media sites. There are now 26 computer universities dedicated to professional education in ICT fields, providing another source of technical expertise.
In the run-up to the November 2010 elections, bloggers reportedly held meetings to discuss various ways to bypass the junta’s internet restrictions, with some planning to use a group blog to report on election-related developments to make it more difficult for the authorities to trace the source of information.45 In the aftermath of the elections, local weeklies were barred from covering the views of losing candidates, a gap filled by exile websites and radio stations. In addition, Aung San Suu Kyi’s release shortly after the elections generated intense discussions over Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and other social media. Both before and after her release, Suu Kyi expressed her intention to use ICTs and applications like Twitter to connect with the younger generation after years of isolation, and to create what she termed a “people’s network” to bring about democratic change; her comments generated considerable interest among the blogging community.46 Also in 2010, Burma’s exile community used ICTs to create a “Citizen of Burma Award” and confer it on a respected movie star–turned–social worker who had founded the Free Funeral Services Society and Hospice despite harassment from the junta. The honoree was selected through an online nomination and voting system. Nyi Lynn Seck, “Myanmar Blogger Survey 2009,” (Rangoon: Myanmar Blogger Society, February 2, 2010), slides, http://www.slideshare.net/lynnseck/myanmar-blogger-survey-2009. The survey was conducted in August and September 2009 at http://freeonlinesurveys.com/rendersurvey.aspsid=9a6oy3au0kgurai625943, and the result was evaluated from valid responses.
Bob Dietz and Shawn W. Crispin, “Media Freedom Stalls as China Sets the Course,” Committee to Protect Journalists, February 10, 2009, http://cpj.org/2009/02/media-freedom-china.php.
Tan, “Myanmar’s First Barcamp in Yangon,” Global Voices, February 2010, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2010/02/01/myanmars-first-barcamp-in-yangon; author’s interview with a weekly journal editor who oversees internet-related reporting, September 22, 2010.
Agence France-Presse, “Burma’s Netizens Boot Up for Elections,” Democratic Voice of Burma, September 1, 2010, http://www.dvb.no/elections/burmas-netizens-boot-up-for-elections/11527; Phoebe Kennedy, “Burma’s Junta Can’t Escape from the Net,” Independent, September 14, 2010, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/burmas-junta-cantescape-from-the-net-2078458.html.
Author’s interview with three young bloggers in Rangoon. December 29, 2010 and January 2, 2011.
The Citizen of Burma Award website is located at http://2011.citizenofburma.org/.
BURMA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net VIOLATIONS OF USER RIGHTS The military junta ruled the country without a constitution for two decades after 1988, when it took power in a coup and crushed a prodemocracy uprising. The new constitution, drafted by the junta and approved in a flawed 2008 referendum, does not guarantee internet freedom. It simply states that every citizen may exercise the rights “to express and publish their convictions and opinions” if they are “not contrary to the laws, enacted for Union security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility, or public order and morality.”48 The regime has promulgated three laws regarding ICTs: the Computer Science Development Law (1996), the Wide Area Network Order (2002), and the Electronic Transactions Law (2004).49 The Printers and Publishers Registration Act (1962) is used to censor the media. All of this legislation and related regulations are broadly worded and open to arbitrary or selective interpretation and enforcement, generating a climate of fear.