From June 2019 As of this February, 1.4 million people in Myanmar’s Rakhine state have faced the longest government-sanctioned Internet shutdown in history, targeting the Rohingya ethnic minority, which make up the majority of Rakhine’s population. The connection blackout ended in early February, just days after Myanmar’s military ousted democratically elected officials and seized control of the country. However, the recovery was short-lived.
Over the past two months, the military junta has continued the process of digital control established by Myanmar’s previous rulers, increased platform-blocking and digital censorship across Myanmar, and launched various combinations of mobile data and wireless broadband disruptions, including various daytime blackouts. On the 47th night, this Friday at 1 a.m. local time, the government ordered that all telecoms reduce wireless and mobile internet access across the country. More than 24 hours later, it never came back.
“What the authorities are doing in the regional environment is a reflection of their crackdown in the offline environment,” said Oliver Spencer, an adviser to the indigenous human rights organization Free Expression Myanmar. “They are destroying businesses, conducting campaigns, arbitrarily surrounding people, and shooting people. Their goal is to spread so much fear that instability, opponents just die, because people’s fear overcomes their anger. The purpose is to shut down the Internet.” It’s just a show of strength, but it’s also a huge self-harm. “
Authorities have given up hardware Internet access so banks, large corporations and the junta can establish some connection to their own activities. But the overwhelming majority of Myanmar’s 55 million citizens, as well as small and medium-sized businesses and gig economies, rely on mobile data and wireless broadband access for their internet. Body phones, coaxial cable or fiber optic hookups are rare in the country.
In addition to suppressing speech, communications and digital rights, arbitrary Internet blackouts are destroying Myanmar’s economy, closing remote schools related to the epidemic and disrupting healthcare.
“Internet shutdowns are a futile way to control information and have an incredibly wide-ranging and devastating effect,” said Isabel Linzer, a research analyst at Freedom House, a US-based digital rights and democracy group.
No one knows how long the internet shutdown will last. The law, which allows authorities to direct telecoms to cut services, was enacted only to issue temporary outage orders with a specific expiration date. But militarily Dr. The service will be “temporarily suspended from today until further notice” to reduce this requirement.
In recent weeks, as has been the case for several years, the people of Myanmar have spread awareness about the dependence on government censorship and site-blocking efforts, depending on Tools like VPN, The Tor Browser, And End-to-end encrypted communication platform like signal. Even before the Internet blackout, sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Wikipedia ads were blocked with an array of news sites.
In total, in preparation for the possibility of a nationwide Internet shutdown, Free Expression Myanmar’s Spencer said some workers were reluctant to install as many physical Internet hookups as possible, so communities could establish a somewhat shared connection. And it has opened the door for some individuals or businesses who already had one of these rare physical hookups to share. People continue to teach each other apps like BreezeFi and FireChat are famous Used during protests in Hong Kong in 2019 and 2020, That uses proximity-based Bluetooth fake networks instead of the Internet to send messages.
Amir Herb, a former U.S. intelligence agent and threat researcher, says he has studied the use of the Internet in Myanmar for firms in Myanmar. “They’re not afraid, or I should say many are really scared, but they’re brave. They’re just pushing against everything and finding ways to call for solidarity and international assistance.”