Facebook has objected to a request from Gambia, which has accused Myanmar at the World Court of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority, to release posts and communications by members of Myanmar’s military and police.
The social media giant urged the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday to reject the demand, which it said would violate a U.S. law that bars electronic communication services from disclosing users’ communications.
Facebook (FB.O) said the request, made in June, for the release of “all documents and communications” by key military officials and police forces was “extraordinarily broad” and would constitute “special and unbounded access” to accounts.
Gambia Attorney General Dawda Jallow told Reuters he was being briefed on the issue but could not yet comment.
The case before the United Nations’ International Court of Justice in The Hague accuses Myanmar of violating the 1948 U.N. Convention on Genocide. Myanmar authorities say they were battling an insurgency and deny carrying out systematic atrocities.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 after a military crackdown that refugees said including mass killings and rape. Rights groups documented killings of civilians and burning of villages.
In 2018, U.N. human rights investigators said Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that had fuelled the violence. Facebook has said it is working to block hate speech.
On Thursday, a spokesperson said Facebook “stands against hate and violence, including in Myanmar”.
Myanmar’s government should immediately lift internet restrictions in Rakhine and Chin States that have put civilians at added risk, Human Rights Watch said today. Government restrictions on the internet have hampered the coordination of aid, collection of accurate information, and monitoring of abuses.
The government has offered new reasons for its ban on mobile internet services, which affects more than a million people amid an armed conflict between government forces and the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic Rakhine armed group. Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed in a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council on June 30, 2020 and elsewhere on July 8 that the blackout was required, in part to “prevent the AA from exploiting mobile internet technologies to detonate IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and landmines.” Yet command-detonated landmines, such as those attributed to the AA, can be detonated remotely by various simple means, none of which require the internet, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Myanmar government’s latest excuses for its prolonged internet ban in Rakhine and Chin States are baseless and contrary to the reality on the ground,” said Richard Weir, crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Presenting these overly broad restrictions as necessary to stop landmine use callously deprives people of lifesaving internet access.”
The restrictions are in place in seven townships in Rakhine State and one in Chin State, where the government allows access to 2G networks, which only permit text messages, commonly referred to as SMS, and voice calls.
The government first imposed restrictions on mobile internet communications in June 2019. The restrictions were temporarily lifted in some areas on September 1, but the government reimposed the restrictions on February 3, 2020, within hours after the AA announced that it would release evidence of mass graves of Muslims killed in Rakhine State by government forces during “clearance operations” in August 2017.
The mobile internet restrictions were subsequently removed in Maungdaw Township on May 2, 2020, leaving eight townships subject to the restrictions. On June 23, the military said there was no plan to lift the ban, despite an earlier Communications Ministry announcement that the internet restrictions were provisionally extended only through August 1.
The government had cited a “security requirement and public interest” in its order to telecom companies to reimpose the restrictions and later cited an escalation in fighting to continue them. The government also offered other rationales for the internet restrictions, including concerns about posting hate speech, nationalist sentiment, disinformation, and “military secrets” online. Justifications regarding hate speech belie the Myanmar government’s own promotion of nationalist and anti-Rohingya sentiment. In April, Facebook removed 22 pages and accounts tied to the Myanmar police force for anti-Rohingya content.
The Myanmar military previously raised concerns about the AA’s use of “remote-detonated explosive devices,” but had not tied it expressly to the internet restrictions.
Explosive devices can be designed or fabricated to be detonated by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person. Such victim-activated antipersonnel mines are prohibited internationally, regardless of whether assembled in a factory or improvised from locally available materials.
Explosive devices can also be made to detonate remotely. Command-detonated landmines constructed in Myanmar can be detonated by various means, such as long electrical wires to create distance between the device and the trigger, or by radio frequencies used with unsophisticated electronics, like a two-way radio, pager, remote car door opener, or cell phone. A simple timer can also be used to detonate an explosive device.
The Arakan Army has previously admitted to using “landmines” and “mines,” as well as “technology” to “carefully control” their use, but has denied using mobile internet technologies to detonate them remotely. Local media and the Myanmar government have attributed numerous incidents using such explosives to the AA, including while the mobile internet services ban was in effect.
In late 2019, Zee News, an Indian media outlet, said that Indian intelligence agencies believed the AA may be using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to detonate landmines. Neither technology relies on mobile internet to operate.
Myanmar is not a party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively prohibits antipersonnel mines. According to the annual Landmine Monitor report, Myanmar is the only country whose government forces still use antipersonnel mines, while non-state armed groups in Myanmar and other countries also use them, usually improvised mines.
The Myanmar government and all armed groups should immediately end the use of antipersonnel landmines, Human Rights Watch said. The Myanmar government should also ratify the Mine Ban Treaty.
The mobile internet restrictions in Myanmar, imposed under article 77 of Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law, authorizes the Ministry of Transport and Communications to order the suspension of a telecommunications service or to restrict certain forms of communication during “an emergency” situation. The broadly worded law should be amended to bring it in line with international standards on freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said.
In maintaining the blanket shutdown, Myanmar is contravening international human rights standards that require internet-based restrictions to be both necessary and proportionate. The UN Human Rights Council has condemned measures by governments to prevent or disrupt online access and information, and called for free speech protections under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In a 2015 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Responses to Conflict Situations, UN and regional organization experts said: “Using communications ‘kill switches’ (i.e. shutting down entire parts of communications systems) can never be justified under human rights law.” UN freedom of expression experts have said that during crises, governments should refrain from blocking the internet and, as a matter of priority, ensure immediate access to the fastest and broadest possible internet service.
The prolonged and disproportionate internet shutdown is also a form of collective punishment against the affected population, since it hinders access to information and communications that are needed for daily life and that are particularly vital during times of conflict and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fighting between Myanmar government forces and the AA in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin States escalated in November 2018. The scale and intensity of the conflict has continued to grow, with reports of nearly 1,000 civilian casualties since the conflict began and hundreds of structures burned during 2020 alone. As of July 6, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that over 80,000 people were displaced from the fighting throughout Rakhine and Chin States, while local groups told Human Rights Watch that the number of people displaced since 2019 is closer to 200,000. Many civilians, primarily ethnic Rakhine, have been forced to flee multiple times. Sources on the ground alleged that both the Myanmar military and the AA have restricted humanitarian aid from reaching civilians in need.
On June 24, the government announced new “clearance operations” in Rakhine State in Kyauk Tan and Rathedaung townships and ordered civilians to leave the area. Although the order to leave was subsequently rescinded, thousands of people were displaced as the clearance operations proceeded in five villages, media reported. Clearance operations were previously used to describe the multiple military deployments in Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017 that were characterized by widespread atrocities by government forces against the Rohingya.
“The conduct of the Myanmar military and AA continues to imperil civilians,” Weir said. “Myanmar’s government should end its ham-fisted, punitive restrictions on civilians, including its unjustified ban on mobile internet services.”
Lift Restrictions in Embattled Rakhine, Chin States
(Bangkok) – The Myanmar government should immediately lift all internet restrictions in eight townships in Rakhine and Chin States, Human Rights Watch said today. The mobile internet shutdown, which began on June 21, 2019, is affecting more than a million people living in a conflict zone.
The internet shutdown, along with restrictions on access by aid agencies, has meant that people in some villages are unaware of the Covid-19 outbreak, humanitarian workers told Human Rights Watch. Local groups report that the shutdown has made it difficult to coordinate the distribution of aid to conflict-affected communities, and to communicate with their field teams to ensure staff safety. A local editor said the shutdown greatly impedes media coverage of the fighting between the Myanmar military and the ethnic Arakan Army, making it hard for villagers to get up-to-date information.
“Myanmar should immediately end what is now the world’s longest government-enforced internet shutdown,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal adviser at Human Rights Watch. “With armed conflict between the Myanmar military and Arakan Army in Rakhine State amid a pandemic, it’s critical for civilians to get the information needed to stay safe.”
On June 12, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications announced the government would extend the internet shutdown until at least August 1 in the remaining eight townships, citing security concerns. “We will restore internet service if there are no more threats to the public or violations of the telecommunications law,” said Soe Thein, the ministry’s permanent secretary, at a media briefing.
Article 77 of Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law authorizes the Ministry of Transport and Communications to suspend a telecommunications service or restrict certain forms of communication during “an emergency” situation. The broadly worded law should be amended to bring it in line with international standards to protect freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said.
Aid groups told Human Rights Watch they feared that shortages of food and water were underreported in many villages in Chin and Rakhine States due to the communications blackout. They also said that in some communities, family members had not been able to send digital payments or contact friends and relatives in conflict areas. Since January 2019, hundreds of civilians have been killed and about 106,000 displaced by the fighting between the military and the Arakan Army.
Internet restrictions have also made it more difficult for the news media to safely gather information and promptly disseminate it. “It is affecting not just the daily activity of our reporting but also for getting news and fact-finding,” said Aung Marm Oo, editor of the Sittwe-based Development Media Group. “Even though our reporters went to conflict-affected areas and interviewed reliable sources, it is difficult to send the material back to the office because they don’t have internet access.”
The Myanmar government should stop blocking media websites, Human Rights Watch said. State-mandated blocking of entire websites is an extreme measure that can only be justified as the least intrusive measure to protect a legitimate public interest. A broad claim that the sites are posting inaccurate news does not provide justification for blocking the websites in their entirety and indefinitely. The government has not made public any of the directives ordering internet shutdowns or blocking of websites.
The government contends that the mobile internet shutdown does not disrupt the dissemination of information because people in affected areas can use mobile SMS services and public address systems to receive government information. The internet can also be accessed in some locations via fixed connections.
However, the vast majority of internet users across Myanmar use mobile data – through cell phones – to access the internet, which provides more opportunity for people to access information quickly, particularly during crisis and conflict situations. A 2019 survey by Myanmar Survey Research found that while half the total population used the internet, of those users, all accessed the internet via their mobile devices.
The internet shutdown has also hampered monitoring of the extremely vulnerable ethnic Rohingya population in Rakhine State. In January, the International Court of Justice ordered the government to protect the Rohingya from genocidal acts.
Under international human rights law, Myanmar has an obligation to ensure that internet-based restrictions are provided by law and are a necessary and proportionate response to a specific security concern. Officials should not use broad, indiscriminate shutdowns to curtail the flow of information or to harm people’s ability to freely assemble and express political views.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has condemned measures by governments to prevent or disrupt online access and information and called for free speech protections under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In a 2015 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Responses to Conflict Situations, UN and regional organization experts said, “Using communications ‘kill switches’ (i.e. shutting down entire parts of communications systems) can never be justified under human rights law.” During crises, governments should refrain from blocking the internet and, as a matter of priority, ensure immediate access to the fastest and broadest possible internet service.
In January, UN human rights experts said in Myanmar, “The blanket suspension of mobile internet cannot be justified and must end immediately.”
“For a year now, the internet shutdown has severely impacted the rights of over a million people in Rakhine and Chin States,” Lakhdhir said. “The government should lift the shutdown, unblock websites, and amend the Telecommunications Law to bring it in line with international standards.”
South Korean provider also targets expansion through Vietnam and Thailand
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) of Myanmar has moved to bolster cyber prevention and defence capabilities through a security-focused partnership with SK Telecom.
Terms of the contract will see the South Korean provider deploy a team of cyber security specialists to Myanmar to consult on the “design and establishment” of a security operation centre (SOC) at the government agency until the end of July.
Leveraging SK Telecom’s ‘Smart Guard’ solution, the team will attempt to diagnose security vulnerabilities within NCSC’s existing cyber security infrastructure, alongside offering infrastructure security management guidance and advice.
This is in addition to the provision of SIEM (security information and event management) offerings developed by Korean security specialist Igloo Security. The solution will “collect and analyse” information – such as logs, errors and hacking – generated by diverse systems including servers, network equipment and applications.
“We are pleased to establish our SOC with SK Telecom’s advanced technology and know-how in infrastructure security,” said Ko Ye Naing Moe, director of NCSC. “We will work closely with SK Telecom to better protect Myanmar’s national intelligence and intelligence resources.”
Operating as an agency under the Ministry of Transport and Communications in Myanmar, NCSC is tasked with safeguarding national intelligence against cyber threats, including hacking and distributed denial-of-service (DDos) attacks, as well as protecting the nation’s information and communication networks.
“SK Telecom will work closely with the NCSC to build a sophisticated security operation system in Myanmar to strengthen its protection against the ever-increasing cyber threats,” said Shim Sang-soo, vice president of Infra Business at SK Telecom. “Going forward, armed with strong cyber security capabilities, we will seek further business opportunities in other Asian markets.”
Following the export of services to Myanmar – which Sang-soo said serves as a “strategic hub” connecting the emerging ASEAN markets – SK Telecom expects to expand security reach across other Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam and Thailand.
The North-East of India is considered a paradise abound with unique and exquisite natural resources. Recently, Bamboo Technology Park was instituted at Chaygaon in Assam with an investment of Rs. 62.28 crore.
Bamboo is an abundant and a highly valued natural resource found in the North-East of India, particularly in Assam. Its anti-erosional and renewable property makes it a multipurpose resource. Due to its varied usage, it is copiously cultivated in the homesteads, village gardens, and agricultural lands and even in the field boundaries.
While inaugurating the Bamboo Technological Park in the vicinity of Guwahati, Chief Minister of Assam, Mr. Sonowal stated, “There are hundreds of MSME’s that produces incense sticks and bamboo handicraft products. Two very large paper plants are in Assam that uses bamboo as the raw material.”
The park has been equipped with the modern Common Facility Centre for producing creative and innovative bamboo products. The facilities include vacuum pressure treatment plant, bamboo stick and resin making facility, to name a few.
The cumulative efforts of private entrepreneurs, the Assam Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC), and the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion helped in establishing the Bamboo Technology Park, with the view to ensure optimum utilization of bamboo at the commercial level.
Influx of new digital ventures or giving digital makeover to old and traditional structures, India, subtly yet swiftly is becoming part of a smart culture. The most recent sector to embrace this innovative change is India’s most venerable telecom service provider – BSNL.
With the intent to empower rural connectivity and development, optical fiber has been laid in gram panchayats of Assam by BSNL. Easy accessibility to television, internet and telephone through a single point will enable youth to be academically inclined and become literate in a manner, more direct and digital. Target of one lakh people becoming part of this electronic revolution has been targeted for 2020.
Under the probable plan, about 1500 gram panchayats shall be covered under this scheme; 70 % of the total gram panchayats in the state of Assam. Along with that multiple WiFi hotspots spanning through the optical fiber route have also been installed.
The whole arrangement is tantamount to elevation of rural conditions for education and business. Trickling down technological know-how to the lowest tier in the society is a mark of growth and development.
As the era of rapid telecom subscriber growth in Myanmar has ended, one of the chief operators in the country, the Norwegian telecoms company Telenor, will now focus on improving its internet services. Myanmar’s telecoms sector was liberalized in 2011 and soon after that Telenor established itself as the number 2 player in the market with 18 million subscribers. The initial phase saw tremendous growth in the telecom sector with various companies competing to get more customers. However, now that the growth phase has subsided, focus has shifted towards providing better data services. Most people in Myanmar who wanted a SIM card have already obtained it and now the companies are competing to retain existing customers rather than targeting on getting new ones who have never used a cellphone before.
In Myanmar there are no fixed line alternatives available to most people and many people don’t even own a computer. Therefore, people are jumping at the chance to be able to access the internet through their smartphones. Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber are already extremely popular in the country. Main competitors of Telenor are Qatar’s Ooredoo and Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) which has partnered with Japan’s KDDI Corp in order to improve its services. According to estimates, MPT has 21 million customers while Ooredoo has 9 million subscribers. Telenor is 3 million customers behind MPT and for in the third quarter this year,5.3 percent of its worldwide revenue came from Myanmar. Around 40 percent of this revenue came from data services while the remaining 60 percent was from voice calls and text messages.
Japanese International Cooperative Agency (JICA) has signed an agreement with Mizoram Government under which it has agreed to share its knowledge, expertise and technology to help promote sustainable agriculture in the state.This Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been named ‘Capacity Enhancement for Sustainable Agriculture and Irrigation Development’ and it was signed on March 24, 2016. The list of the people who signed the agreement on behalf of Mizoram includes various top officials from Agriculture, Minor Irrigation, Horticulture and Soil and Water Conservation departments. Mizoram’s State Chief Secretary Mr. Lalmalsawma was also present at the occasion. Representing JICA were Mr. Satoru Fujita, its Team Leader and four other senior officials. Between 2013 and 2015, JICA conducted a development study and used its findings to formulate a master plan. This plan spans a period of 20 years and is set to begin from October, 2016. As a part of this the technical cooperation project, training programs will be conducted for both farmers and officials in Japan. All the expenses will be borne by the Japanese Government.
Indian telecom company Vodafone has decided to enter India’s North East region. This huge telecom network operator Vodafone India is going to introduce 3G services In Meghalaya. In order to achieve this aim it has deployed 68 new 3G towers in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. Vodafone has already made a huge investment on this project which it hopes to recover soon by tapping into the Shillong’s telecom market and reaching out to its 2.8 lakh residents. The decision was made after Vodafone managed to bag 3G (2100 Mhz) spectrum for Assam and North East circle at auctions held in March, 2015.
So far, Vodafone has invested Rs. 500 crore in Assam and North East (ANE) circle. The company already has 40 million subscribers in this circle and it hopes to increase that number even further by expanding its services in Meghalaya. At present, 40 percent of Vodafone’s customers are data users and as 3G services are made available many more will be attracted towards utilizing these services. The company aims promote and speed up mobile internet usage by providing easily accessible and high quality services.
On January 6, 2016, Netflix launched its streaming service in 130 new countries. Netflix is the world’s largest internet television network and it has more reach than almost any other traditional broadcaster with YouTube and local new channels being the only exceptions. Myanmar is one of the countries where Netflix is available now but as the current internet speed available in this country are quite slow it might not be able to become popular just yet. High cost of internet services in Myanmar is another hindrance so people here might have to rely on DVDs to watch their favourite movies and TV shows for some more time.
The availability of Wi-Fi connections and 3G networks is a very new development in Myanmar. People here are just getting accustomed to using internet for anything more than sending e-mails. There are three main internet services operating in Myanmar- Telenor, Ooredoo and Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT). Ookla, a renowned internet metrics provider recently conducted a study which showed that none of these networks are fast enough to enable people to enjoy Netflix comfortably and at the moment all of them are quite expensive as well.
MPT is among the faster internet services here and it provides a download speed of 6.24 megabits per second while Ooredoo is much slower than even the average download speed of 6 megabits per second.
The internet service providers in Myanmar have welcomed this move from Netflix though they understand that at it will take some time before people can actually start using this service here. The average download speed of 6 megabits per second means that even 1 gigabit of data, which can be the size of a single episode of some TV series, will take 3.7 hours to download.
Streaming over Wi-Fi networks in this country is even slower and will require frequent buffering which can be many hours to watch just one season of a TV series. As Wi-Fi networks are extremely slow people here mostly rely on 3G networks which are quite expensive.Telenor is Myanmar’s largest 3G network with around 12 million customers.The cost of services provided by this company is 6 Kyats/MB for a speed of 2 megabits per second. A 6.5 GB premium internet package provided by MPT costs 25,000 kyats.
This is way too expensive for most Myanmar citizens and though Netflix provides one month free trial, after that initial month there is $ 8 per month charge. A whole season of a TV series is easily available on DVD for a cost equivalent to around just $ 5. Therefore in present situation people will find DVD to be a much better and cheaper option than using Netflix services. Another issue is that online purchase of a Netflix package will require the use of a credit card which most people here do not have.
Myanmar is mainly a cash based society where many people have never ever had a credit card issued to their name and neither are they comfortable making such kind of transactions. This is expected to change in future but it is going to take some time and till then the chances of using Netflix services becoming a popular phenomenon are quite less. The good news is that many of Myanmar’s internet users are happy with this development. So, many of them have expressed their excitement about Netflix being available in their country over the internet. The move to go global has greatly benefitted Netflix in general and it has resulted in a sharp rise the company’s stock.