05/16/2011, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Internet cafés: Burmese government bans CDs, USB sticks and floppy disks

External data storage devices are banned as the authorities tighten controls to prevent demonstrations and unrest. Censorship has not prevented the development of an underground blogging network. Ruling junta keeps mobile telephony on a leash.
Yangon (AsiaNews) – The use of USB sticks, CDs, floppy disks and other external data storage devices in Burmese internet cafés has been banned. A new regulation issued by the Communications Ministry has tightened existing controls in the sector of Information Technologies (IT). This comes a f few weeks after the same ministry announced a plan to expand mobile telephony to extend 30 million more GSM mobile phone lines over the next five years. However, IT systems in Myanmar rank among the lowest in the world because of outdated technology and underdeveloped networks.

The ban on data storage devices comes two months after the Burmese government adopted a law blocking transmission technologies for delivery of voice communication, this according to the Democratic Voice of Burma (see also “Burmese junta bans Skype and VoIP,” in AsiaNews, 22 March 2011). This IT system allows for low-cost internet communication.

Ostensibly, the measure was designed to cut financial losses by local companies offering overseas calling, but it is also useful in enhancing state censorship since Skype and VoIP are hard to monitor.

Existing legislation is already draconian. Already foreigners are required to hand over passport details, address and phone number before using an internet café computer, whilst café owners must submit monthly records of users’ internet usage data to the Myanmar Post and Telecommunications Ministry.

At around 2 per cent, Burma’s internet penetration ranks among the lowest in the world, but numbers appear to be on the increase. Despite existing laws, a thriving underground blogging community has developed, whose members are willing to risk jail to exchange information, especially about the Jasmine Revolution in the Arab world.

Notwithstanding government claims, the development of Myanmar’s mobile phone network is still hampered by antiquated technology and infrastructure.

The government has also failed to solve network contradictions between different networking systems, an IT technician said on condition of anonymity.

The New Light of Myanmar reported on 23 April that Burma would launch its own communication satellite with the aim of enhancing capabilities in communications and information sectors.

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