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"Pulling the Plug: A Technical Review of the Internet Shutdown in Burma" - and its Implications for the Future

"Pulling the Plug: A Technical Review of the Internet Shutdown in Burma" - and its Implications for the Future

Adding to their long history of the study of Internet filtering, the OpenNet Initiative has compiled, and released, a bulletin on the recent demonstrations in Burma and the Burmese government's shutdown of the Internet there. The executive summary of "Pulling the Plug: A Technical Review of the Internet Shutdown in Burma" begins:

"This bulletin examines the role of information technology, citizen journalists, and bloggers in Burma and presents a technical analysis of the abrupt shutdown of Internet connectivity by the Burmese government on September 29, 2007, following its violent crackdown on protesters there. Completely cutting international Internet links is rare. Nepal, which severed all international Internet connections when the King declared martial law in February 2005, is the only other state to take such drastic action. Although extreme, the measures taken by the Burmese government to limit citizens’ use of the Internet during this crisis are consistent with previous OpenNet Initiative (ONI) findings in Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and Tajikistan, where authorities controlled access to communication technologies as a way to limit social mobilization around key political events. What makes the Burmese junta stand out, however, is its apparent goal of also preventing information from reaching a wider international audience..."

As the Berkman Center celebrates its 10th anniversary, we are examining where we've been over the past 10 years in order to inform the trajectory of the Internet. One of Berkman's flagship projects, the OpenNet Initiative is conducted in partnership with the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, the University of Cambridge’s Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme, and the Oxford Internet Institute. Since its 2002 inception, ONI has written over 50 reports, regional overviews, and case studies. They released the first-ever global survey of Internet filtering at the Internet Filtering Conference at Oxford University in May 2007; Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Internet Politics, an MIT Press book based on their analysis of these seminal studies, will be released in Spring 2008.

"Pulling the Plug" builds upon past ONI research to contextualize the recent technical and political developments in Burma.  In turn, the bulletin has implications for the role of information technology and citizen media on democracy and economic growth, which are among the topics that will occupy the Berkman Center over the next decade.

The full bulletin can be found as a PDF here and in HTML here.