Myanmar’s growing online freedoms
Long plagued by one of the most repressive Internet censorship policies in the entire world, citizens of Myanmar are finding that they have access to a growing amount of content.
It is no surprise that some of the more repressive governments in the world also provide very limited internet access for their citizens. This is because cyberspace can give users access to all kinds of information, some of which could portray these ruling powers in an unflattering light.
Despite what this content may say, it is an important right of citizens around the world to have access to it. This information can help people in repressive situations find a way to liberate themselves. Further, it can connect individuals that may not otherwise be able to.
However, many ruling powers are concerned about the ways it can be used to undermine their authority. Fortunately, some governments are acknowledging the rights of their citizens more so, as people become more vocal about these fundamental rights.
Myanmar's restricting control
Forbes Magazine reported that the government in Myanmar has been lifting some of the restrictions within the country when it comes to Internet access. The nation has a violent past when it comes to revolution and dissent, even before the Internet was as pervasive as it is today. Since the Internet entered the country, the government has been known to imprison many of the country's most outspoken cyber-critics, however, the news source noted that the recent Freedom House report on Internet freedom has shown that strong progress is being made within the country.
Two years ago, Myanmar's Internet policy was the second worst only to Iran, likening it to some of the globe's most cited oppressors, such as China. Along with poor access to content, anything that did not support the state, like most foreign media, was likely restricted.
Those who bypassed these restrictions or spoke out against the government were often subject to long prison sentences and torture. However, there is evidence that is changing.
According to the Index on Censorship, many restrictions within the country have been lifted. This includes the bans on Skype calls along with access growing more affordable. This means that more individuals are using technology such as cell phones with greater frequency. The source noted that the cost of a SIM card has fallen from around $4000 in the early 2000s to below $10 today.
Forbes also noted that the state has deregulated the telecommunications industry. This has enabled two foreign companies to enter the country and start work toward modernizing the country's communication network. This would allow for more citizens to gain access to the internet and cell phones.
Such measures are similar to those of another government that has said it will start pushing for a more free and open Internet – Iran. Al Jazeera America reported that government officials have been joining social media outlets and saying that government should lift the ban on social media. This comes on the heels of the election of the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
A far ways to go
Despite these improvements on a number of fronts, Forbes pointed out that the Internet in Myanmar is still rated as "not free." Many people still do not have access and much of the progress that has been made is simply because there was no where else to move but up.
There is still a high amount of surveillance on those who speak out against the Internet and laws that issue strict punishments to these kinds of dissidents are still in place, making true free speech difficult. Still, there is some room for optimism in the country and the state of cyberspace.