Myanmar’s military junta wants to ban VPNs and digital currency and has introduced cybersecurity laws for it. These restrictions have not gone well with many digital rights organizations as it would result in the country further closing off digitally to the outside world.
According to a bill signed by Soe Thein, permanent secretary of the military’s transport and communications ministry on Jan 13, that is undergoing request for comments till Jan 28, when adopted will cover VPN users to between one and three years inside and levy fines up to million Myanmar Kyats ($2,800).
Under the bill use of digital currency will be subject to imprisonment for six months to a year, and the same fine is used to deter VPN use.
Services providers will have to provide personal information of users – like name, address, and access history – to authorities if requested. Earlier in September 2021, Telenor, a Norwegian mobile carrier, left the region, as back then the junta wanted to intercept calls carried on its network.
The country faced a military coup in Feb 2021, after Tatmadaw banned Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, leaving the user at the mercy of VPN to gain access to their preferred online communication services.
During this period too there was a strong objection to the prohibition of social media. A proposed VPN ban was opposed by many tech and commerce advocate organizations across the country. According to BBC the current bill consists of 115 clauses and is much stronger than the earlier efforts of Junta in 2021.
VPN restriction is already in place in China which restricts many of the citizens’ access online. Many digital and human rights advocates believe the VPN ban will hurt pro-democratic organizations like the National Unity Government, and benefit the military junta.
According to Alp Toker, director of NetBlocks, “The proposed bill is draconian, even by the standards of the Burmese military. The first version of the bill proposed in February 2021 was dropped after industry and civil society united to push back, but the military has been set on getting its way.”
Toker further added, “requisite to connect with the outside world from Myanmar since the coup, due to restrictions on social media and international platforms imposed by the post-coup authority,” as well as “essential for business and international trade, particularly in the digital services sector. These are certain to have a chilling effect on political speech and human rights, but ultimately this is only going to turn public sentiment further against military rule.”
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