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Myanmar Internet is a ‘virtual battlefield’, Report says

BANGKOK (AP) – A report by the International Crisis Group says Myanmar’s military rulers are seeking to restrict Internet access to whitelisted networks.

It likened the Internet to a “virtual battlefield” where the military struggles to gain an advantage because it lacks the technological capability, while social media like Facebook has banned military officials from many government agencies.

A report released on Tuesday highlighted the growing popularity of online dissent and the use of social media to sow hatred for Aung San Suu Kyi, a minority Muslim elected in the February 1 coup in western Myanmar. Since then, authorities have imposed nighttime internet outages and tried to restrict access to social media platforms.

International telecommunications companies like Norway’s Telenor և’s other businesses have complained about the steps, which they say are distorting business and making years of integration into Myanmar’s global economy.

The coup halted a decade-long staggering move toward a civil, democratically elected government after decades of military rule that began shortly after the country known as Burma gained independence from Britain.

It excited a generation of young people who grew up in relative freedom, with access to mobile phones, social media, and the Internet as the country moved into the mobile age, heavily dependent on Internet services commonly found in richer countries.

The junta has ordered mobile operators and Internet service providers to restrict access to certain websites, virtual private networks or VPNs, which could tighten Internet filtering. It is gradually intensifying disconnections by limiting access to only fiber-optic data connections that are accessible to only a portion of the population.

Many technologically savvy young people are involved in the civil disobedience movement against the coup, and the military lacks the capabilities that China has developed over the past few decades, allowing the police to use a police network to ban certain websites, the International Crisis. The group report says:

Instead, the military, also known as Tatmadav, is developing an “intranet” inside the country that allows mobile access only to approved or “blacklisted” applications. These may include online banking, for example.

This “inevitably limits its ability to provide maximum services in addition to the most basic services, having a major impact on the economy,” the report said.

Last week, Telenor, Myanmar’s only western mobile operator, issued a statement opposing such trends.

“Myanmar’s preferred connection was based on the joint experience of almost all other countries. Open internet access is driving growth. “White listing is a practice that will not give the same benefits, it should be abandoned,” said Telenor.

It notes that KPMG estimates that expanding mobile և internet access has boosted Myanmar’s economic growth by more than 5%.

Telenor recently announced that it is writing about $ 780 million worth of business in Myanmar. But it is said that it does not intend to take it back և continues to add subscribers.

The Myanmar authorities are apparently finalizing details of a cyber security bill that foreign businesses and other groups say will increase the risk of doing business there.

The International Crisis Group report urges companies and governments to ensure that they do not interfere with the military’s efforts to control the Internet and suppress opposition.

At the same time, governments need to step up arms embargoes to prevent dual civilian-military technologies that could be used to quell political dissent.

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