Burma’s lower house of parliament today approved a bill granting the government power to oversee public misuse of the Internet.
The proposal urges the Union government “to oversee and monitor the misuse of information technology which may harm the character and morality of youths and disrupt tranquility.”
Thant Zin Maung Maung, the incumbent minister for transport and communications, supported the proposal.
“Public awareness should be the first step,” he told parliament this morning. “For the public to better understand the rules for using social media responsibly, there should be more public awareness activities on state-owned media platforms in collaboration with the Ministry of Information, CSOs and NGOs.”
A little over half of Burma’s 53 million population has access to electricity; however mobile phone usage is ubiquitous. In March the government claimed that 89 percent of people across the country were now online. By far the most popular medium on the Internet is Facebook, which has registered at least 14 million accounts in Burma.
Arguably the most controversial issue surrounding social media use in Burma is the Telecommunications Law, widely known by its punitive terms under Article 66(d), which covers defamation. While supporters of the act say it offers protection against slander, critics say the government and the military have used the law to silence critics and stifle dissent.
In August, Mandalay-based Zaw Moe Htet became the 18th journalist to be charged or detained for “online defamation” since Aung San Suu Kyi’s government took power last year. He was sued for posting comments on Facebook about the chief minister of Kachin State.