Thu, Oct 13, 2005 - Page 5 News List

IT firms aiding autocracies


It should come as no surprise that the Internet in Myanmar is heavily filtered and carefully monitored.

But a new report from the OpenNet Initiative, a human-rights project linking researchers from the University of Toronto, Harvard Law School and Cambridge University in Britain, once again raises tough questions about the use of filtering technologies -- often developed by Western companies -- by autocratic governments bent on controlling what their citizens see on the Web.

Myanmar "employs one of the most restrictive regimes of Internet filtering worldwide that we have studied," said Ronald Deibert, a principal investigator for the OpenNet Initiative and the director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto.

Myanmar now joins several nations, including China, Iran and Singapore, in relying on Western software and hardware to accomplish their goals, Deibert said.

Microsoft, Cisco and Yahoo, for example, have all come under fire recently for providing technology or otherwise cooperating with the Chinese government to enable it to monitor and censor Internet use.

In the case of Myanmar, the regulations and customs are quite clear. The Digital Freedom Network, a human-rights group based in New Jersey, notes that among things forbidden by Myanmar's Web regulations, introduced in January 2000, are the posting of "any writings directly or indirectly detrimental to the current policies" of the government.

As with their six previous reports, the researchers combined a variety of network interrogation tools and the cooperation of a volunteer in Myanmar "who remains anonymous as a safety precaution," the report noted, to test the accessibility of various Web sites.

Sites like Hotmail, which offer free e-mail services, were routinely blocked, forcing Burmese to use one of the two officially approved (and easily monitored) Internet service providers for their e-mail.

The OpenNet study suggests that Myanmar, which has long been under US sanctions, including the 2003 Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, has recently migrated from an open-source filtering technology to a proprietary system called Fortiguard, developed by Fortinet in Sunnyvale, California.

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