Is a VPN needed in Myanmar?

Myanmar, known for its glittering golden pagodas, saffron-robed monks, and bustling teak temples, has navigated an intricate path towards digital modernization. This Southeast Asian nation’s digital landscape is fraught with complexities, which have been exacerbated by the recent political instability following the 2021 military coup. Myanmar’s adherence to international norms on digital rights and internet privacy is challenging due to its unique political context.

Internet Censorship and Freedom

Historically, Myanmar has imposed rigorous internet censorship, particularly during times of political unrest. The country has several laws, such as the Computer Science Development Law (1996), the Wide Area Network Order (2002), and the Electronic Transactions Law (2004), which are broad in scope and subject to arbitrary interpretation. Following the 2021 military coup, internet censorship saw a re-emergence with the blocking of social media platforms and other websites. Several news agencies and social media platforms that denounced the coup were also blocked.

Peer-to-Peer Services and Torrenting

While the country’s stance on P2P services and torrenting remains unclear, it is crucial to note that the existing legal framework could potentially categorize such activities as illegal. Given the unpredictable enforcement of digital laws, users should exercise extreme caution.

Media Websites and Social Media Access

Access to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp was significantly restricted following the 2021 coup. Such measures appear to be targeted at stifling dissent and curbing the anti-coup protests. As of now, these restrictions have led to the arrest of several social influencers under act 505(a), which carries a prison sentence of up to three years.

Net Neutrality

There is limited information available regarding Myanmar’s stance on net neutrality. Nevertheless, the general behavior of ISPs, including selective shutdowns associated with the military, raises questions about the neutrality of network services.

Legal Framework

Existing laws regulating the internet in Myanmar are often broad and subject to arbitrary enforcement. Promises to repeal or amend repressive laws like the Electronic Transactions Law have not been fulfilled. Instead, the 2013 Telecommunications Law further restricted online freedoms. Even though some amendments were made in 2017, the controversial clause that restricts freedom of speech, Article 66(d), remains unchanged.

Surveillance and Privacy

Surveillance measures have increased significantly since the 2021 military coup. Prior to this, cybercafes were already mandated to keep records of customer activity and provide these to the police upon request. The coup has further escalated the government’s efforts to monitor online activities, affecting both individual privacy and collective freedom of expression.

Censorship Circumvention and Protective Measures

Attempts to circumvent censorship have been criminalized, although many cybercafes used to assist users in bypassing internet filters. Since the 2021 coup, however, such practices have become increasingly risky. As a protective measure for those concerned about digital privacy, the use of VPNs and encrypted communications is advised, albeit with an understanding of the risks involved.

Conclusion

The digital landscape in Myanmar remains heavily influenced by its shifting political situation. While the nation has seen progress in digitalization, the increasing restrictions and surveillance practices make Myanmar a complex and often hazardous environment for digital rights and online freedoms. The 2021 military coup has only intensified these issues, and it is uncertain how the country’s digital landscape will evolve in the near future.


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