Information Technology (IT) in Burma


Information Technology (IT) in Burma
   The seizure of power by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) in September 1988 occurred on the eve of the "revolution" in information technology that made the Internet and electronic mail available around the world. By the mid-1990s, "cyberactivism," organized by Burmese exiles and their supporters in North America, Europe, and Asia, played an indispensable role in promoting cooperation among widely disbursed Burmese democracy groups, as well as informing the general public and policy makers about Burma issues. Although in the early 1990s exile groups produced and distributed a wide variety of hardcopy newsletters, such as Burma Issues, by the end of the decade most of these groups were online.
   In 1993, an American student based in Thailand started BurmaNet, placing articles from the Bangkok Post and Nation on the Internet; these two Thai newspapers provided the most reliable English-language information about Burma. BurmaNet grew rapidly and was joined by The Irrawaddy, a hardcopy magazine also based in Thailand that began providing an extensive online edition. At the beginning of the 21st century, both of these online services and several others provide information on a daily basis about the latest developments inside the country, as reflected in their coverage of the "Black Friday" Incident of May 30, 2003. Cybercampaigns have also been organized by the Free Burma Coalition and other groups to support the Massachusetts Selective Purchasing Law and boycotts of companies, such as Pepsi Cola, that have done business with the post-1988 military regime. In the late 1990s, the State Peace and Development Council began to sponsor its own website ("Myanmar.com"), which now includes an online edition of the slick Myanmar Times and Business Review.
   Fearful that a flood of electronically delivered information could cause unrest, the SLORC in September 1996 decreed the "Computer Science Development Law," which imposes heavy penalties (7 to 15 years' imprisonment and fines) on persons who operate a computer without obtaining a license from the Ministry of Communications, Posts and Telegraphs. It prohibits the use of computers to "undermine State Security," and established a "Myanmar Computer Science Development Council," chaired by SLORC Secretary-1 Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, to oversee the IT sector. Although the law is concerned specifically with computers, harsh punishments have been dealt out for the use of lower-tech information devices as well. In 1996, the authorities arrested James Leander Nichols, honorary consul for Norway and Denmark in Rangoon (Yangon) and a close friend of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her family, for illegal possession of two fax machines and a telephone switchboard. Sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor, he died at Insein Jail under mysterious circumstances. Burma was one of the few Asian countries where e-mail and the Internet were not widely available, but in 2001 the SPDC allowed limited access. All Internet and e-mail transmissions pass through government-controlled servers, which block sensitive sites. In 2002, the regime, in cooperation with private computer firms, established an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Park on what had been the Hlaing Campus of Rangoon (Yangon) University, and opened a second ICT park at the Yadanabon Market in Mandalay. Like many authoritarian states, the SPDC would like to reap the economic benefits of IT while avoiding the political risks.
   See also Human Rights in Burma.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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