From June 2019 As of February, 1.4 million people in Myanmar’s Rakhine State faced the longest government-imposed internet shutdown in history, targeting the Rohingya ethnic minority who make up most of the nation. the people of Rakhine. The connectivity outage finally ended in early February, days after Myanmar’s military deposed democratically elected officials and took control of the country. But the reprieve was short-lived.
Over the past two months, the military junta has continued to use digital vetting mechanisms put in place by previous Myanmar regimes, stepping up platform blockades and digital censorship across Myanmar and launching different combinations of mobile data and wireless broadband outages, including various nighttime connectivity. power outages for 46 consecutive days. On the 47th night, this Friday at 1 a.m. local time, the government ordered all telecoms to shut down wireless and mobile internet access across the country. More than 24 hours later, he has not returned.
“What the authorities are doing in the online environment is a reflection of their repression in the offline environment,” said Oliver Spencer, advisor to Free Expression Myanmar, a national human rights group. “They destroy businesses, carry out raids, arbitrarily round up people and shoot people. Their goal is to spread so much fear that the unrest, the opposition dies, because the fear of the people outweighs their anger. just be a demonstration of their absolute power. But it is a vast self-harm. “
Authorities have left wired internet access available so that banks, large corporations and the junta’s own operations can maintain some connectivity. But the overwhelming majority of Myanmar’s 54 million citizens, along with its small and medium-sized businesses and on-demand economy, depend on mobile data and high-speed wireless access for their internet connection. Physical telephone, coaxial cable or fiber optic connections are rare in the country.
In addition to stifling speech, communication and digital rights, indiscriminate internet shutdowns are destroying Myanmar’s economy, disrupting pandemic-related distance education and disrupting healthcare.
“Internet shutdowns are a brutal means of controlling information and there is an incredibly wide and devastating impact that follows,” says Isabel Linzer, research analyst at the US digital rights and democracy group Freedom House.
No one knows how long the Internet shutdown will last. The law that allows authorities to order telecommunications to shut down is only written to impose temporary outages with a fixed end date. But the army simply said the service would be “temporarily suspended from today until further notice” to avoid this requirement.
Over the past few weeks, as they have done for several years, Myanmar residents have raised awareness about government censorship workarounds and site blocking efforts, tools like VPNs, the Tor browser, and end-to-end encrypted communication platforms like Signal. Even before the internet went down, sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Wikipedia were all blocked, along with an array of news sites.
In anticipation of the possibility of a total nationwide internet shutdown, Spencer of Free Expression Myanmar says some activists rushed to install as many physical internet connections as possible, so communities could keep some of shared connectivity. And some people or businesses that already had one of these rare physical connections opened their doors to share the resource. People have also taught themselves apps like Bridgefy and FireChat, famous used at protests in Hong Kong in 2019 and 2020, which use proximity-based Bluetooth mesh networks, rather than the Internet, to send messages.
“The people of Myanmar are resourceful,” says Amira Harb, a former US intelligence officer and threat researcher who studied Myanmar internet use for the company IntSights. “They are not afraid, or I should say many are rightly afraid, but they are courageous. They just push against everything and find ways to call for solidarity and international aid.”