Internet in Burma
|This article is outdated. (December 2013)|
The Internet in Burma (also known as Myanmar) has been available since 2000 when the first Internet connections were established. Beginning in September 2011, the historically pervasive levels of Internet censorship in Burma were significantly reduced. Prior to September 2011 the military government worked aggressively to limit and control Internet access through software-based censorship, infrastructure and technical constraints, and laws and regulations with large fines and lengthy prison sentences for violators.
Access and usage
Service providers, Internet cafés
Myanmar Teleport (formerly Bagan Cybertech), Yatanarpon Teleport, Information Technology Central Services (ITCS), Red Link Communications, and the state-owned Myanmar Post and Telecommunication (MPT) are the Internet service providers in Myanmar. Internet cafés are common in the country and most use different pieces of software to bypass the government's proxy servers.
Myanmar has a very low Internet penetration rate due to both government restrictions on pricing and deliberate lack of facilities and infrastructure. According to World Internet Stats statistics as of June 2012, the country had over 534,930 Internet users (1.0% of the population) with the vast majority of the users hailing from the two largest cities, Yangon and Mandalay. Although 42 cities across the country have access to the Internet, the number of users outside Yangon and Mandalay is just over 10,000. Most of the country's 40,000 Internet connections are ADSL circuits, followed by dial-up, satellite terminal, and WiMax. MPT is also undertaking a trial of fiber-to-the-home in Mandalay, and plans to roll out a similar trial in Yangon.
- Blogs focus on entertainment (14%), technology, computers, and the Internet (17%), books and literature (9%), news (6%), hobbies and travel (6%), politics (5%), and religion (4%), among other topics;
- 52 percent of Burmese bloggers write from Burma and 48 percent write from abroad;
- 72% of bloggers are men and 27% are women;
- 77% of bloggers are single and 14% are married;
- 35 percent of bloggers are 26 to 30 years old and 29 percent are 21 to 25 years old;
- 80 percent blog in Burmese, while 8 percent blog in English, 10 percent write in both languages, and the rest use ethnic minority languages such as Kachin, Karen, and Chin.
- Listed as selective in the political and Internet tools areas, as substantial in social, and as no evidence of filtering in conflict/security by the OpenNet Initiative in August 2012.
- Listed as an Internet enemy by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) in 2011.
Following decades of military rule, Burma has undergone a series of significant political and economic reforms since elections in November 2010. March 2011 saw the end of formal military rule in the country, with reformist Thein Sein becoming the country’s first civilian president in half a century. While by-elections held in April 2012 included numerous reports of fraud, the opposition National League for Democracy, including leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won seats after contesting their first elections since 1991. In 2011-2012 hundreds of political prisoners were released and legislative changes re-establishing labour rights in the country.
Reforms have also extended to the country’s strict information control regime. Beginning in September 2011, the historically pervasive levels of Internet censorship were significantly reduced. International news sites, including Voice of America, BBC, and Radio Free Asia, long blocked by Burmese censors, had become accessible overnight. A number of previously censored independent Burma-focused news sites which had been highly critical of Burma’s ruling regime, such as the Democratic Voice of Burma and Irrawaddy, were suddenly accessible. Following the reduction in online censorship, the head of Burma’s press censorship department described such censorship as “not in harmony with democratic practices” and a practice that “should be abolished in the near future.”
In August 2012, the Burmese Press Scrutiny and Registration Department announced that all pre-publication censorship of the press was to be discontinued, such that articles dealing with religion and politics would no longer require review by the government before publication. Restrictions on content deemed harmful to state security, however, remained in place. Pornography is still widely blocked, as is content relating to alcohol and drugs, gambling websites, online dating sites, sex education, gay and lesbian content, and web censorship circumvention tools. In 2012 almost all of the previously blocked websites of opposition political parties, critical political content, and independent news sites were accessible, with only 5 of 541 tested URLs categorized as political content blocked.
In a September 2012 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Burmese President Thein Sein described the country as having taken “irreversible steps” towards democracy, a speech broadcast on state television for the first time.
As significant as they are, the impact of these reforms may be less might be expected because only 0.3 percent of Burma's population has Web access, outside of Burma's largest city, Yangon, and few can read English.
Laws regulating the Internet include the Computer Science Development Law (1996), the Wide Area Network Order (2002), and the Electronic Transactions Law (2004), while the Printers and Publishers Registration Act (1962) regulates the media. These laws and associated regulations are broadly worded and open to arbitrary or selective interpretation and enforcement. The Electronic Transactions Law covers “any act detrimental to”—and specifically “receiving or sending and distributing any information relating to”—state security, law and order, community peace and tranquility, national solidarity, the national economy, or national culture. Violators face fines and prison terms of 7 to 15 years. The importing and use of a modem without official permission is banned, with penalties for violations of up to 15 years in prison. Harsh prison terms and selective enforcement encourages self-censorship. However, expression in online environments such as comment features where posters can remain anonymous remains relatively free.
While these laws are still in place, authorities have promised to adopt a media law that will put an end to censorship in 2012 and they then expect to revise or repeal the Electronic Act and emergency rule. As of January 2013 the new media law was not in place and there is some concern that the country could backslide and return to the repressive tendencies of the past.
The use of Internet censorship circumvention methods is officially banned in Myanmar; the Myanmar ISPs block many bypass and proxy websites, but are unable to block all circumvention methods. Cybercafes are required by law to keep records on their customers’ activities and provide police access to the records upon request. However, many cafes do not systematically enforce such monitoring, often assisting their users in circumventing censorship instead. In response the government increased surprise inspections of cybercafes, instructed cafes to post signs warning users not to visit certain websites, and instructed cybercafes to install CCTV cameras and assign at least four security staff to monitor users.
Prior to September 2011 the government used a wide range of methods to restrict Internet freedom, including legal and regulatory barriers, infrastructural and technical constraints, and coercive measures such as intimidation and lengthy prison sentences. Although the authorities lacked the capacity to pervasively enforce all restrictions, the impact of sporadic implementation and the ensuing chilling effect was profound. While information circulating on the Internet is still closely monitored, reforms by the Burmese regime that began in 2011 resulted in information being more freely circulated.
Internet censorship in Myanmar was classified as pervasive in the political area and as substantial in social, conflict/security, and Internet tools areas by the OpenNet Initiative in December 2010. Myanmar is listed as an Internet enemy by Reporters Without Borders in 2012. Myanmar's status is "Not Free" in Freedom House's Freedom on the Net 2011 report.
Myanmar utilized a network specifically for domestic use that is separate from the rest of the Internet to limit the flow of unwanted information into and out of the country.
The Internet infrastructure was also controlled through total shutdowns and temporary reductions in bandwidth. During the 2007 street protests, the junta completely shut down internet connectivity from September 29 to October 4. And state-controlled ISPs occasionally applied bandwidth caps to prevent the sharing of video and image files, particularly during politically sensitive events, such as the November 2010 elections.
Prior to September 2011 Myanmar banned the websites and blogs of political opposition groups, sites relating to human rights, and organizations promoting democracy. The term "Myanmar Wide Web (MWW)" is a pejorative name for the portion of the World Wide Web that is accessible from Myanmar. Many sites containing keywords or phrases that were considered 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” were blocked and a few still are. Access to Yahoo! Mail, MSN Mail, Gmail, the video-sharing site YouTube, the messaging feature of the social-networking site Facebook, Google’s Blogspot, and the microblogging service Twitter were sporadically blocked. However, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems including Skype were and are available. Fortinet, a California-based company, provides the government with software that limits the material citizens can access on-line, especially e-mail service providers and pornographic websites.
Many political prisoners in Myanmar were charged under the laws mentioned above. However, in the second half of 2011 as part of a larger series of amnesties the military regime released a number of journalists and bloggers. For example:
- Reporters Without Borders counted at least 15 journalists and three internet activists in detention in 2011;
- Nay Phone Latt, a blogger and owner of three cybercafes, was released in January 2012 after being sentenced to 20 years and six months in prison in November 2008 for posting a cartoon of General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council from 1992 to 2011;
- members of the 88 Generation Students Group, Htay Kywe, Min Ko Naing, Ko Jimmy, Nilar Thein, Mie Mie, and nine others, were convicted on 11 November 2008 of four counts of "illegally using electronic media" and one count of "forming an illegal organization" and sentenced to 65 years in prison apiece, while the group's photographer, Zaw Htet Ko Ko, and other members were given sentences ranging from three to eleven years; Min Ko Naing has since been released. Other members of the group were released on 13 January 2012, as part of a mass presidential pardon for political activists.
- freelance reporter Hla Hla Win was released in 2011 after being arrested in September 2009 and given a 27-year prison term, including 20 years for violating the Electronic Transactions Law. Her associate, Myint Naing, arrested at the same time was also released after receiving a 32 year sentence;
- blogger Win Zaw Naing was released in January 2012 after being arrested in November 2009 and facing up to 15 years in prison for posting pictures and reports about the September 2007 protests;
- a former military officer and a foreign affairs official were sentenced to death in 2010, and another foreign affairs official was sentenced to 15 years in prison, for leaking information and photographs about military tunnels and a general’s trip to North Korea, there are conflicting reports that the death sentences were reduced to life or to 32 years in 2012;
- journalist Ngwe Soe Lin was released in late 2011 after being arrested at a cybercafe in Yangon, was sentenced to 13 years in prison in January 2010 for working for an exile media outlet;
- activist Than Myint Aung was released in January 2012 after receiving a 10-year prison sentence in July 2010 for violating the Electronic Transactions Law by using the Internet to disseminate information that was “detrimental to the security of the state”; and
- photographer Sithu Zeya was granted a conditional release after being sentenced to eight years in prison in December 2010 for taking pictures in the aftermath of an April 2010 bomb blast in Yangon and for his affiliation with an exiled media outlet.
- Martin, Steven et al. (2002). Myanmar (Burma), 8th Ed. Lonely Planet Publications. ISBN 1-74059-190-9.
- "Internet Services Tariff",[dead link] Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications, Information Technology department, Ministry of Communications, Posts and Telegraphs, accessed 10 June 2011
- "Internet Cafe in Myanmar", Today in Myanmar, 13 February 2009
- "Country Code List: ISO 3166-1993 (E)". American National Standards Institute, Inc. Retrieved 2007-11-12.
- "The Internet in Burma (1998-2009) ", Mizzima News
- "Company at a glance", Yatanarpon Teleport Co., Ltd.
- "New consortium to shake up IT sector", Ye Kaung Myint Maung, Myanmar Times, vol.19, no.370 (11-17 June 2007)
- "Myanmar Internet Provider", Guide for Myanmar, 2007
- "Internet service hampered as Myanmar Teleport server breaks down", Mizzima News Agency, 10 February 2009
- "No More Proxies: Myanmar Teleport", Saw Yan Naing, The Irrawaddy Publishing Group, 29 May 2008
- "Bypassing Internet Censorship in Burma / Myanmar", VPNHero.com, 16 March 2011
- "Google Public Data: Burma Internet penetration". Google.com. Retrieved 2014-04-13.
- "Asia", Internet World Stats, 23 September 2013. Retrieved 31 October 2013.
- Wai-Yan Phyo Oo and Saw Pyayzon (2010-07-30). "State of Internet Usage in Myanmar". Bi-Weekly Eleven (in Burmese) (Yangon) 3 (18): 1–2.
- "Blogging Increases 25% Within A Year” (Blog Yay Thar Hmu Ta Nhit Ah Twin 25 Yar Khaing Hnoan Toe Lar), Myanmar Internet Journal, 17 December 2010
- “Myanmar Blogger Survey 2009”, Nyi Lynn Seck, Myanmar Blogger Society, Rangoon, slides, 2 February 2010
- OpenNet Initiative "Summarized global Internet filtering data spreadsheet", 29 October 2012 and "Country Profiles", the OpenNet Initiative is a collaborative partnership of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto; the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University; and the SecDev Group, Ottawa
- "ONI Country Profile: Burma", OpenNet Initiative, 6 August 2012
- Internet Enemies, Reporters Without Borders (Paris), 12 March 2012
- "Update on information controls in Burma", Irene Poetranto, OpenNet Initiative, 23 October 2012
- "YouTube, BBC ban lifted in Burma", Patrick Winn, The Rice Bowl, the GlobalPost's reported blog on Asia, 16 September 2011
- “Myanmar Law (1988–2004)”, Burma Lawyers’ Council
- "The Electronic Transactions Law (The State Peace and Development Council Law No. 5/2004)", Myanmar Law (2004), Burma Lawyers' Council, 30 April 2004
- Internet Enemies: Burma, Reporters Without Borders, Paris, 12 March 2009
- "Call for ‘Concrete’ Media Reforms", Radio Free Asia, 16 January 2013
- "Burma Country Report", Freedom on the Net 2011, Freedom House, 18 April 2011
- "ONI Country Profile: Burma", OpenNet Initiative, 22 December 2010
- "Myanmar's main Internet link not working: official", Asia Pacific Nets, channelnewsasia.com, 28 September 2007
- Burma "Junta tightens media screw", Michael Dobie, BBC News, 28 September 2007
- "Pulling the Plug: A Technical Review of the Internet Shutdown in Burma", Stephanie Wang and Shishir Nagaraja, OpenNet Initiative, 22 October 2007
- Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering, Ronald Deibert (ed), MIT Press, 2008, p.340, ISBN 9780262042451
- "Internet Filtering in Burma in 2005: A Country Study". Open Net Initiative.
- "Burma bans Google and g-mail". Burma Net News. 2006-06-27. Retrieved 2006-06-28.
- "Press Freedom Barometer 2011: Burma", Reporters Without Borders
- "Burma blogger jailed for 20 years", BBC News, 11 November 2008
- Saw Yan Naing (11 November 2008). "40 Burmese Dissidents Given Prison Terms of up to 65 Years". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 8 May 2011.
- Jonathan Head (11 November 2008). "Harsh sentences for Burma rebels". BBC News. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- "High-profile dissidents freed in Burma amnesty". BBC News. 13 January 2012. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- "Appeal case for DVB reporter Hla Hla Win", Myint Maung, Mizzima News, 24 March 2010
- "Freedom on the Net 2012 - Burma", Freedom House, 25 September 2012
- "Another blogger arrested for posts about Saffron Revolution", International Freedom of Expression Exchange, 18 November 2009
- "Two Receive Death Sentence for Information Leak", Irrawaddy Publishing Group, 7 January 2010
- "Political Prisoner Profile: Win Naing Kyaw", Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), accessed 2 February 2013
- "Political Prisoners List", Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), 8 January 2013
- "Another Video Reporter Gets Long Jail Sentence", Reporters Without Borders, news release, 29 January 2010
- “Court Extends Prison Sentence of NLD Liberated Area Member”, Myint Maung, Mizzima News, 16 July 2010
- "BURMA: Prisoners released and others still detained", Asian Human Rights Commission, 3 February 2012
- "Photographer Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison", Reporters Without Borders, news release, 28 December 2010
- "The Internet and Burma (1998-2009)", Mizzima News, 24 September 2009
- "Burning down Myanmar's Internet firewall" an article on Myanmar's Internet Censorship by Shawn W Crispin in Asia Times Online, 21 September 2007
- Internet in Mawlamyine