Pulling the Plug: A Technical Review of the Internet Shutdown in Burma
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.
The shutdown of Internet connectivity was precipitated by its use by citizens to send photographs, updates and videos that documented the violent suppression of protests in Burma, information that contributed to widespread international condemnation of the Burmese military rulers’ gross violations of human rights.
We examine the impact of communication technology in shaping these key political events in Burma, the limitations of these tools, and the prospects for the next round of information wars.