Myanmar’s military junta is reportedly set to pass its long-threatened cybersecurity law, which in its latest form would ban virtual private networks (VPNs), limit access to social media and force internet companies hand over user data to the military. .
The latest version of the Cyber Security Bill, which updates a draft published in February 2021, comes a year after the military seized power, plunging the country into a zero-sum struggle between the junta and a loose coalition of opponents. According to a report published last week by Myanmar Now, the military administration submitted a revised version of the bill to stakeholders on January 13 and requested their comments by January 28. The law is expected to be passed this week.
The February 2021 draft has been widely criticized for requiring internet service providers to block or remove any content deemed to be “inciting hatred, destroying unity and tranquility”, any “false news or rumors” or anything that is “inappropriate” to the culture of Myanmar. It also required Internet Service Providers to collect users’ personal data, store it for three years from the day of use, and hand it over to military authorities upon request.
While the draft was withdrawn due to strong opposition from the Myanmar business community, advocacy group Free Expression Myanmar (FEM) (which also published an unofficial translation of the legislation) claims that the new draft the military “repeats the repressive provisions of previous drafts and adds more, seriously threatening the safety and security of Myanmar’s digital space.”
According to the EMF, the 2022 draft added an all-new chapter on administrative penalties for digital businesses, and a sixth vague category of expression that will be prohibited by law: “expression that harms social status and means of subsistence of an individual”. Since the definition does not mention any requirement that this expression be false, it actually prohibits any criticism of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing or any other senior junta official. The law also grants the junta additional powers to block access to digital businesses.
Perhaps the most significant addition, however, is the banning of VPNs, the use of which would result in a one to three year prison sentence and fines of up to 5 million kyat (2,810 $). The networks, which mask data streams and allow users to circumvent local internet controls, were widely used to access Facebook, which was blocked three days after the coup. “Since VPNs are required to access Facebook,” FEM noted, “any individual or company that posts to Facebook could indeed create evidence of a crime.”
In addition to criminalizing the use of VPNs, anyone promoting the use of VPNs – for example, a civil society group that encouraged activists to use VPNs or a phone shop that helped install them – could also face up to three years in prison and/or a prison sentence. quite stiff.
The project has drawn fire from Myanmar’s business community. In a joint statement released on Friday, eight foreign chambers of commerce were “deeply concerned” about the proposal and warn that the bill “disrupts the free flow of information and has a direct impact on the ability of businesses to operate legally and effectively in Myanmar”.
“VPNs are a legitimate security device that protects businesses against cyber and financial crimes, and enables secure business access to support the global digital economy,” the statement said.
The fact that the junta withdrew its latest cybersecurity bill due to private sector opposition to reintroduce a tougher bill this month shows how much the situation has deteriorated over the year. elapsed. Far from the smooth takeover it probably expected, the Burmese military is now engaged in an all-out struggle against civilian militias, ethnic armed groups and passive resistance from the mass of the population.
In this struggle, establishing firm control over the Internet is crucial for the junta’s ultimate victory. In this area, as in so many others, it took months to set Myanmar and its people back years.