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The terrible price of Burma’s shutdown of the internet

In: Tech

Since the military’s February 1 coup, the military has restricted the Burmese citizens’ right to internet access. This restriction, meant to protect the military’s grip on power, both denies access to information, and impedes the country’s economy.

During the coup, the military was able to shut down Internet access. Massive network disruptions have continued. The outages have affected several networks, including international operators and mobile services, as per reports in the media.

Reporters cannot post news, families can’t access information to help protect themselves from COVID-19, and businesses suffer, particularly the tens of thousands of entrepreneurs running online businesses.

“The whole digital economy crashed when they began to block mobile internet access,” an entrepreneur in Rangoon said to the non-profit news site Rest of World. The outlet claims that the network downtimes of the regime caused “gutted” the businesses of thousands small-scale internet companies.

The cost to Burma’s economy exceeds $24 million a day, according to estimates from NetBlocks an organization that is not a government agency which monitors internet usage.

The United States and partner nations are calling for a return to democracy and the end of military violence against peaceful protesters. In the aftermath of the coup the Burmese military has killed over 700 protesters, and has detained thousands of people as well as democratically elected media, activists, and government officials.

Information access is a fundamental human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Freedom House calls internet shutdowns a blunt tool that can have “an extremely broad and devastating effect” on society.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently condemned government-imposed internet shutdowns and other tactics that hinder freedom of speech online.

The Burmese military’s Internet shutdowns have not only obstructed information and media websites. They’ve even blocked a mobile app that lets users track the spread of coronavirus, and to check for affected regions according to the Open Observatory of Network Interference, which opposes internet censorship.

Burmese businesses that are impacted by the suppression range from farms, where research prices are available online, to national companies which also depend on technology such as digital to operate, Reuters reports.

Oliver Spencer, of Free Expression Myanmar Oliver Spencer of Free Expression Myanmar, claimed that the military’s shutdowns to networks hurt everyone. “Shutting down the internet is supposed as just one of the ways they demonstrate their power and absolute authority,” he told Wired magazine. “But it’s a huge self-harm.” The end result is that the harm will affect Burma’s population of 54 million which, for the most part, depend on the internet wirelessly for information. “Protests myanmar netblocksfingasengadget, the purpose of this shutdown will be to inspire anxiety and stop people from communicating, organizing protests or accessing crucial details,” the Centre for International Governance Innovation says.


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