Experts Expect Draconian VPN Ban by February

Experts Expect Draconian VPN Ban by February

The SAC’s Ministry of Transport and Communication (MOTC) on Jan. 13 once again raised the prospect of an outright ban on VPN usage in Burma, communicating a statement suggesting it was to implement further draconian amendments to Burma’s Cyber Security Law.

The crackdown represents the latest attempt by the military to limit both online criticism and donations to resistance groups. 

According to a report in Nikkei Asia, the “proposed law also stipulates that service providers have to provide the personal information of users… upon the request of authorities.” Authorities also specifically target “online gambling” sites, presumably in an attempt to stop citizen’s participating in the NUG’s Spring Lottery. 

The ministry has reportedly requested comments on a draft amendment to be submitted by Jan. 28. Those privy to a discussion on the new law include junta government ministries, the Central Bank of Myanmar, the UMFCCI, the Myanmar Computer Federation, telecommunication license holders, and banking services.

A February 2021 draft of the amendment — which, once altered, led to the military’s whitelisting of IP addresses, making the majority of popular social media platforms inaccessible without the use of a VPN — was supposedly shot down after members of the UMFCCI raised concerns over its effect on businesses in the country.

Activist and former NLD Hluttaw MP, Nay Phone Latt, has led calls against the amendment, highlighting that it could leave those found using a VPN facing a maximum sentence of three years in prison or a fine of up to K5 million (US$2,800).

A Burmese digital rights activist, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said that — despite the junta’s consultations — this time around, the amendment will be passed.

“The military council tried to amend the cyber security law in February 2021, but there was widespread opposition. However, we did not expect that again as there is a growing fear that the military will do whatever it wants to crush dissent… Because of this, I think it will be approved in early February,” she told DVB. 

“Even if the military council were to receive negative feedback from public institutions or from the private sector, it wouldn’t care anymore,” she added. “The purpose of amending this law is to quell the revolution. If something stops the public from having access to the internet, and helps establish the military administration, the comments are meaningless.”

Online businesses said that the new law would likely lead to the shuttering of many social media-based businesses, a key driver of Burma’s economy.

“This will affect everything from small online businesses to large ones, including all those currently doing business on Facebook and relying on social media. In the last five years, our country has completely adapted to operate over social media. If these restrictions are put in place, we will definitely be sent 50 years back in time,” a business owner from Yangon told DVB.