Connectivity Revolution drove Tech Industry and Gov to join Civil Society to address urgent Digital Rights challenges

On 14 and 15 December, more than 55 leaders from local and international technology companies, government, media and civil society organizations from around the country met at Myanmar Digital Rights Forum – held at Phandeeyar – to talk about critical digital rights challenges in Myanmar.

During the past two years, we’ve seen that Myanmar has experienced a connectivity revolution; tens of millions of people are now using the internet. Despite this connectivity boom, rights groups and media organizations have seen that there are urgent digital rights challenges that needs to be addressed.

Daw Ei Myat Noe Khin, an Associate at Phandeeyar and a co-organizer of the event explained: “Myanmar’s laws and regulations were changed to enable millions of people to get connected. However, not nearly enough has been done to protect the rights of these users. Urgent legislative action is needed to ensure that the rights and freedoms that the Myanmar people now enjoy offline are also protected when they are using the internet.”

Recent events have highlighted how vulnerable people in Myanmar are when communicating and sharing information online. Daw Ei Myat Noe Khin, an Associate at Phandeeyar and a co-organizer of the event explained, “Myanmar’s laws and regulations were changed to enable millions of people to get connected. However, not nearly enough has been done to protect the rights of these users. Urgent legislative action is needed to ensure that the rights and freedoms that the Myanmar people now enjoy offline are also protected when they are using the internet.”

Rights groups and media organisations have noted the threats to freedom of speech posed by the arrest under Article 66(d) of Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law of journalists and ordinary citizens for Facebook posts. However, Article 66(d) is only one of many issues that need to be addressed. Other critical issues include:

Information privacy: the right for citizens to have some control over how their information is collected and used by the government and companies;
Right to information: the idea that the public should be able to access information held by the government; and
Online hate speech: contesting online speech that call for discrimination, hostility or violence based on race, ethnicity, or religion.

Daw Htaike Htaike Aung, Executive Director of Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO) and a co-organizer of the forum said, “The benefits of connectivity won’t be realized if people are scared to use the internet. The objective of the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum is to raise awareness about the importance of these issues and to develop concrete plans to address them”.

Attendees of the Forum plan to develop specific policy recommendations, strategies and campaigns on the key issues.

“These issues affect everyone. It’s important there’s wide consultation and all stakeholders including government and business representatives are engaged in these issues,” said Ms Vicky Bowman, Director of Myanmar Center for Responsible Business and a co-organizer of the Forum.

“These issues affect everyone. It’s important there’s wide consultation and all stakeholders including government and business representatives are engaged in these issues,” said Ms Vicky Bowman, Director of Myanmar Center for Responsible Business and a co-organizer of the Forum.

“This is not a Myanmar problem. Hyper connectivity in the region has led to greater criminalization of online activities. Over the years, spaces in South East Asia have been created to talk about these issues. We can only spark development and change when these spaces continue to flourish, and have participation from different sectors,” said Ms Cheekay Cinco, Digital Strategies Program Manager, Engage Media and co-organizer of the forum.

“This is not a Myanmar problem. Hyper connectivity in the region has led to greater criminalization of online activities. Over the years, spaces in South East Asia have been created to talk about these issues. We can only spark development and change when these spaces continue to flourish, and have participation from different sectors,” said Ms Cheekay Cinco, Digital Strategies Program Manager, Engage Media and co-organizer of the forum.

Myanmar Digital Rights Forum is organized by Phandeeyar: Myanmar Innovation Lab, Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO), Engage Media and Myanmar Center for Responsible Business (MCRB) with the support of The Embassy of Sweden.