Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Technology empowering Burma's junta

One thing that struck me, standing behind one of Myanmar Customs and Immigration counters last week, was how the technology had changed since my last visit, only one year ago. The Burmese border guards appeared to have acquired the same technologies as those used by the Thai border agents. Their set-up was sophisticated and very efficient. Who is selling Burmese government the latest technology? Thailand?

It could well be the United States, according to a report out today.

The CSM reports (via slashdot) that a US tech firm has sold surveillance equipment to the Burmese junta and that such sales to the Burma remain legal under US law. Essentially the junta has been using US-made software to censor the Internet. Money quote:
US export rules focus mainly on national-security criteria, says Clif Burns, a partner at Powell Goldstein LLP in Washington and editor of "It may well be the case that something doesn't have a [security] impact on the US but is otherwise improper or not good citizenship to export," says Mr. Burns.

The only cases where censorware cannot be sold, he says, involve certain forms of encryption or countries under broad US trade sanctions. In the case of Burma, sanctions probably don't outlaw a sale, he says, because the sanctions mostly prohibit imports from Burma, not exports of US goods to it.
The CSM article names US companies believed to have sold Internet-filtering technologies to Burma. It's clear to me that the battle against totalitarianism -- in all its forms -- is the fight to secure access to free communications and the exchange of ideas. Sure, let's have an arms embargo against Burma.

But that's not going to replenish the front lines of Burma's democracy movement.

The front line is Joseph tuning into VOA or BBC (Jot); it's the mobile phone a monk named Dak used to call his friend in Mandalay (Jot); it's the email service another monk used to report a massacre to a CNN editor (Jot).

We have to think of clever ways to empower Burma's people with one kind of communications technology, while working to keep other technologies out of the hands of the junta. At times these goals may contradict (see the CSM article), but that's no reason not to try.

In other Burma-related news: Today the NY Times published an article about a monastery in Mandalay. Compare with Dak's account (previous post) -- exclusive to Jotman -- concerning another monastery in Mandalay.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Because all comments on this blog are moderated, there will be some delay before your comment is approved.