Sunday, 14 March 2010

Burma an ‘enemy of the internet’

Published: 12 March 2010

Internet repression in Burma is amongst the strictest in the world, according to a report released today by a Paris-based media watchdog.

The findings were released to coincide with the World Day Against Cyber Censorship, an initiative started by Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), which also releases an annual Press Freedom Index.

Alongside Burma on RSF’s Enemies of the Internet report are Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.

It accuses Burma, as well as North Korea, Cuba and Turkmenistan, of being “determined to use any means necessary to prevent their citizens from having access to the Internet”.

The group highlighted last year’s trial of Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, when the junta “did not hesitate to cut the telephone and Internet lines of the city in which she was detained”.

It warns that in times of political instability in Burma the internet will become even slower than it usual poor performance. During these times, such as the 2007 monk-led uprising, it can take up to an hour to send an email with no attachments.

RSF’s revelations will come as no surprise to Burmese web users, not least those who use the popular social networking site Facebook. After the ‘fanpage’ of Suu Kyi had attained more than 150,000 fans last month, Facebook users in Burma found that the website was temporarily blocked.

Suggestion were tabled at a recent technology fair in Rangoon that the country introduce a personalised web passport system, whereby every internet user would have a unique passport so their activities could be easily tracked by the authorities.

Currently owners of internet cafes are required by the authorities to take down the details of their customers in a more primitive attempt to track users.

Such developments have prompted RSF to state that internet censorship is becoming more sophisticated amongst the internet ‘enemies’. Burma however is also cited as having “one of the world’s lowest internet penetration rates”; because of economic and practical reasons, it is estimated to be around 0.2 percent of the population.

Meanwhile exiled media groups regularly receive cyber attacks, apparently from Burmese government technicians whom it is alleged are often trained in Russia.

Russia incidentally became a new addition to the RSF report for having jailed an online political activist. Australia has also drawn the attention of the watchdog for proposing to start blocking websites that the government deems inappropriate.

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