Than Shwe vs. The Internet


The latest from Yangon:

Facing rising street protests and eyewitness accounts appearing on YouTube and elsewhere online, Myanmar's military government has cut the country's link to the Internet, reports said Friday.

The move further isolates a nation embroiled in a popular uprising and an official response that turned deadly, the most recent a Japanese journalist reportedly shot dead while covering a street revolt.

Both the AP and AFP reported Myanmar's Internet connection was down. An official of the government's Post and Telecom office told the AFP wasn't working due to a damaged underwater cable.

Internet connections in Burma are hard to come by, and the major effect of this will be to prevent the few Burmese with access from sending pictures and video to outside news organizations. I don't think the Internet has much to offer the protesters at this point, but I do worry that government thugs will keep access limited to government ministries for as long as they're in power.

The regime has been effective in limiting the number of Internet connections avaible to average people, in part simply by keeping most people destitute. But for those who can afford connections and licenses, the junta has been completely unable to control information flows. The firewall that blocks exile sites, porn, and email providers is porous. (Officially, you're supposed to register with the government and get a government-approved, government-monitored email address. Using a google, yahoo, or aol account is illegal.) Outsiders tend to overestimate the efficacy of firewalls and underestimate the importance of basic, even incomplete, access.