By Nyein Chan Myo
Myat Moe Kyaw is a young journalist at Shwe Myitmakha Media Group who has been using Facebook for more than five years. He lives in Yangon and he has two Facebook accounts; one personal account for friends and family as well as a professional account.
One day, he received a random message. “Are you Myat Moe Kyaw? Are you an astronomer? Confused by the question, Myat Moe Kyaw replied, “I am not an astronomer. I am just a journalist. Why do you ask me this?” What transpired was a strange story of a stolen online identity that had been used to contact a woman who Myat had never met.
The use of fake online identities is a new but troubling problem in Myanmar. Kyaw reported his stolen identity to the police. Myanmar recently passed a new law governing online safety called the Telecommunications Law.
“There were three accounts with the same name as me and they were using my profile for swindling money from others and telling girls I want to marry them. This person using my identity also took money from one girl, cheated her and ran way”.
“All I can do to protect myself from being sued is to use the telecommunication law. This person used my personal information and acted like me to borrow money from others people and did not give it back” said Kyaw.
Although Myanmar has introduced the telecommunications law and a cyber police unit that can help victims of fraud, this law has made problems in other areas.
While this law was ostensibly made to protect online safety and cybercrime, it has had the opposite effect on freedom of expression.
In Myanmar, because of this law, some journalists and writers were charged for defaming the Government. The well-known case of poet Mg Saung Kha, who was accused under Article 66(d,) and sentenced to six months in prison. Then Htut Aungo and Wai Phyo, the CEO and editor in Chief of Eleven Media Group, were also sued under this law. This legal case is still ongoing.
According to the statement by Eleven Media’s News, in the past year, 27 people have been charged under the telecommunications law. A further 12 have been arrested and are awaiting a court date.
A cyber police unit was founded to deal with crimes that happen online. The cyber police can charge people under the telecommunication law. A specific cyber law is being drafted but has not yet been enacted.
In Myanmar, the telecommunication laws Article 66(d) has been a topic of debate among young journalists and lawyers. Most journalists who are sued for defamation are sued under this article of the telecommunications law. The telecommunication law was enacted during the period of president U Thein Sein Government in October 2013. Users of the internet have to be careful about what they post online. But for journalists, the concern is much more about how this law affects freedom of expression.
According to Thanoewai, a Journalist from the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), Article 66(d) “prevents the journalist to express freely and truly. This law is not to protect people online but to give the opportunity to sue each other between the government and media.”
In Myanmar, most of the online problems are happening in social media, especially Facebook. Facebook is the most popular social media in Myanmar. According to a survey of Facebook that was published in May 2016, there are more than 9.6 million Facebook users in Myanmar.
In February 2015, the email accounts of more than dozen of journalists and reporters were attacked by hackers. The story was reported in several newspapers, with some alleging government involvement. This issue renewed calls for the government to take online safety more seriously.
Online safety for citizens and journalists is an issue in many countries in Asia and the Pacific. At the Case for Space conference at the United Nations in Bangkok in December 2016, young delegates spoke about experiences in their home countries.
Geon- Hee-Lee, comes from The Republic of Korea. In his country, he says the government is too close to business, especially big technology companies. “[My] country is mostly controlled by the strong political groups and their links to strong enterprises."
The Philippines also has a cyber law that affects freedom of expression. “The Philippines is basically free, but unfortunately given this law, there is a decline in freedom online.” said by Rejinel Valenica, a journalism student from the University of Philippines.
Myanmar-based NGO Myanmar ICT for Development Organisation (MIDO) was also attending the Case for Space conference. MIDO campaigns for the development and safeguarding of ICT and online space in Myanmar. The Panzagar project aims to prevent hate speech while the Light House project shares information and knowledge about ICT and the internet to allow people to use the internet in more effective way.
“The laws in Myanmar are not suitable for the current situation. If we want to construct the cyber laws, we also have to discuss or seeking advice from technological experts” said Ma Phyu Phyu Thi, the co-founder and research and development manager of MIDO said.
“Technologies are sill developing in Myanmar but Myanmar people need to better understand how technology works,” said Tun Zaw Htay, from DVB Law lab program. Tun says that Myanmar’s fast-paced transition means that many changes need to be made to regulate the online space in Myanmar. “Myanmar is like a flower that bloomed before it was even a blossom.”
(Copyright: UNESCO/Nyein Chan Myo – this content was first published as part of the Youth Newsroom of the Regional Roundtable “Youth at the Heart of the Agenda 2030: The Case for Space” here: http://www.case4space.org/newsroom)