SINGAPORE, July 5 (Reuters) – Foreign executives of major telecommunications companies in Myanmar have been told by the junta that they must not leave the country without permission, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said.
A confidential order from Myanmar’s Post and Telecommunications Department (PTD) in mid-June said senior officials, foreigners and Myanmar nationals, must apply for special permission to leave the country, the person said.
A week later, the carriers received a second letter telling them they had until Monday, July 5 to fully implement the interception technology they had previously been asked to install to allow authorities to ‘spy on calls, messages and web traffic and track users on their own, the source said. Reuters did not see the orders.
The directives follow pressure on businesses from the junta, which faces daily protests from its opponents and a growing number of insurgencies to activate spyware technology. Read more
An army spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The junta never commented on the electronic surveillance effort, but announced soon after taking power its goal of passing a cybersecurity bill that would require telecom providers to provide data on demand and remove or block any content deemed disturbing “unity, stabilization and peace”. He also amended privacy laws to free security forces from intercepting communications.
The travel ban comes after increased pressure from military officials to complete the implementation of surveillance equipment. The source, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the ban was intended to pressure telecommunications companies to finish activating spyware technology, although the ordinance itself even does not specify a reason.
Three other telecommunications sources, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities had stepped up pressure on companies to implement the interception, but declined to give further details. Two sources said the companies had been repeatedly warned by junta officials not to speak publicly or to the media during the interception.
Telenor declined to comment. There was no immediate response to requests for comment from Ooredoo, state-owned MPT and Mytel, a joint venture between Vietnam’s Viettel and a Burmese military conglomerate.
Months before the February 1 coup, telecommunications and internet service providers were ordered to install intercepting spyware to allow the military to eavesdrop on citizens’ communications, reported Reuters in May. Read more
Reuters was unable to establish to what extent the surveillance technology has been installed and deployed, but four sources said Norwegian company Telenor ASA (TEL.OL) and Qatari company Ooredoo QPSC (ORDS.QA ) had not yet fully complied.
One of the military’s first actions on February 1 was to shut down internet access and it has still not been fully restored as telecommunications has regularly received lists of websites and phone numbers from activists to block.
These measures left the future uncertain for Myanmar’s telecommunications sector, which had been one of the most dynamic in the world. Telenor said on Friday it was assessing the future of its operations in the country, a source telling Reuters it was considering selling its unit in Myanmar. Read more
Report by Fanny Potkin in Singapore; Additional reporting by Poppy McPherson in Bangkok; Editing by Matthew Tostevin, William Mallard and Daniel Wallis
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