The new military government in Myanmar has reportedly ordered telecommunications companies to temporarily block access to Facebook as the platform poses a threat to the restoration of stability in the country. This is part of a broader effort to restrict internet access following a coup last month.
The non-profit internet shutdown tracker NetBlocks confirmed that access to Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp servers is now restricted in the country. Internet disruptions were also registered on January 31, 2021 when the Myanmar military took control of the coup that brought them to power.
When it comes to politically motivated Internet shutdowns, 2021 has already got off to a miserable start. In January alone, India, Myanmar and Uganda suffered internet disruptions related to political events.
In Uganda, the state shut down the internet completely on the day of its presidential election in early January. Last week, Indian authorities restricted internet access in several areas near the capital, New Delhi, as local farmers protested against agricultural laws passed last September.
According to Hanna Kreitam, a technical expert on internet policy for the NGO Internet Society, internet shutdowns, aside from violating fundamental human freedoms, have a detrimental effect on growth because they have a direct financial impact on a country’s economy. Kreitam explained that internet shutdowns are dampening economic activity, which consequently reduces profits for local businesses and lowers tax revenues.
“In addition, many individuals, organizations and companies around the world rely on Internet-based services that depend on critical functions such as data storage, data processing and financial transactions in different countries. The interruption of access to these services inevitably reduces productivity and leads to significant economic losses, ”said Kreitam.
A 2020 report by Top10VPN found that regional internet disruptions coupled with persistent internet outages in Kashmir may have cost India $ 2.8 billion in 2020, while disruptions in Myanmar cost the country’s economy $ 190 million could.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 will be a critical year and emerging economies cannot afford the economic and infrastructure costs that internet shutdowns often add to the pressures of the ongoing pandemic, Kreitam said.
India, for example, aspires to be a technology hub but has a complicated history of monitoring the internet to quell dissent and protests. Kreitam said internet shutdowns would affect those aspirations.
“We believe that Internet shutdowns undermine people’s confidence in the Internet infrastructure to be available and to work reliably when needed. Over time, people no longer use unreliable networks, which leads to lower investments and a further decline in investments in infrastructure and expansion, ”said Kreitam.
According to Samuel Woodhams, Digital Rights Researcher at Top10VPN, authorities in India, Myanmar and Uganda previously disrupted the internet at critical times.
“The recent shutdowns in Uganda, India and Myanmar show that elections, protests and political upheaval continue to be a trigger for internet restrictions around the world. We know that countries that disrupt the internet once are likely to do so again,” said Woodhams emailed CoinDesk.
Woodhams added that pressures from the United Nations, civil society and legal practitioners have so far not prevented governments from restricting Internet access and affecting citizens’ freedom of expression at crucial political moments. In fact, he said it was unlikely that there would ever be a supranational body capable of stopping these disruptions at the local level.
“With more elections planned in countries that have previously been shut down and the damaging economic and political effects of the pandemic continue to emerge, we can unfortunately expect a lot more internet disruption in the coming year,” said Woodhams.