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Internet Filtering in Burma in 2005: A Country Study


Burma, also known as Myanmar, implements one of the world's most restrictive regimes of Internet control. These on-line restrictions buttress off-line regulation of speech implemented by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), a group of military officials who maintain authoritarian rule over the state. Burma's system combines broad, vague laws of long standing with harsh penalties. Internet access is costly and the state uses software-based filtering techniques to limit significantly the materials Burma's citizens can access on-line. Most dial-up Internet accounts provide access only to the limited Myanmar Internet, not to the global network that most people around the world can access. The state maintains the capability to conduct surveillance of communication methods such as e-mail, and to block users from viewing Web sites of political opposition groups, organizations working for democratic change in Burma, and pornographic material. As compared to states elsewhere around the world, Burma's censorship regime is among the most extensive.

The OpenNet Initiative (ONI) tested its global list of Web sites and a high-impact list of sites with material known to be sensitive to the Burmese state. On the global list, we found nearly 11% of pages tested blocked, with a high level of filtering of e-mail service provider sites (85%) and pornographic sites (65%). The state also blocked significant numbers of gambling (24%), group Web sites (18%), and free Web space sites (18%). On our high impact list of sites with content known to be sensitive to the Burmese state, we found 84% of sites blocked, including nearly all political opposition and pro-democracy pages tested. These findings align with Burma's well-documented efforts to monitor e-mail communication by its citizens and to control political dissent and opposition movements.

Burma's commitment to regulating Internet content through technical methods is demonstrated by its purchase and ongoing implementation of filtering software from the U.S. company Fortinet. Our research suggests that Burma continues to seek to refine its censorship regime. Burma's system of Internet control shows no signs of lessening, and may worsen as it moves to a more sophisticated software product and as the state moves to tighten on-line restrictions.

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