Defence

A digital firewall in Myanmar, built with guns and wire cutters

By ET News

The Myanmar soldiers descended before dawn February 1, bearing rifles and wire cutters. At gunpoint, they ordered technicians at telecom operators to switch off the internet. For good measure, the soldiers snipped wires without knowing what they were severing, according to an eyewitness and a person briefed on the events.

The data center raids in Yangon and other cities in Myanmar were part of a coordinated strike in which the military seized power, locked up the country’s elected leaders and took most of its internet users offline.

Since the coup, the military has repeatedly shut off the internet and cut access to major social media sites, isolating a country that had only in the past few years linked to the outside world. The military regime has also floated legislation that could criminalise the mildest opinions expressed online.

So far, the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, has depended on cruder forms of control to restrict the flow of information. But the army seems serious about setting up a digital fence to more aggressively filter what people see and do online. Developing such a system could take years and would likely require outside help from Beijing or Moscow, according to experts.

Such a comprehensive firewall may also exact a heavy price: The internet outages since the coup have paralysed a struggling economy.

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