Moulmein Internet cafes face increased restrictions

October 8, 2008

HURFOM : Internet café’s in Moulmein, the capital of Mon State, are facing increased restrictions say sources in the city. Two weeks ago, cafés were ordered to close no later than 8pm, shortening permitted operation time by three hours. Shop owners have also been threatened for failure to provide authorities with sufficient information about their patrons.

“The Myanmar Teleport’s rules say we are allowed to stay open until 11pm,” says the owner of an Internet café in Moulmein. “But last week they demanded we close at 8pm.” 

The café owner also said that shops are required to record information on every user, including their National Identity card numbers, addresses and web browser activity. “These rules are not new. I opened this shop one and half year ago, and have been ordered to abide by Myanmar Teleport’s detailed rules since I applied for my license,” says the owner.

Many Internet cafes fail to follow these rules, the owner added. “Most owners are not in full compliance. For example, we are supposed to take a screen-shot or what each user is doing every five minutes, store the photos and back to officials in a weekly meeting.”

The failure to abide by the military government’s regulation of Internet access is not, however, necessarily motivated by politics or dissent. According to the shop owner, “Proprietors do not want to take the screen shots. If we do, no users will come and use our services.” The decision, then, appears to be economic. “Full compliance creates problems for customers, which creates problems for owners,” the source said. “If users feel insecure or inconvenienced, they won’t come to our cafes. Following the strict rules could drive us out of business.”

Political or not, the lack of compliance could soon land the Internet café owners in hot water. Proprietors are required to attend semi-weekly meetings with Myanmar Info-Tech officials. In the recent meeting in which the shortened operating hours were announced, shopkeepers were warned that their failure to provide complete information on the activities of their customers was not going unnoticed. Whether this warning is to be followed with consequences remains to be seen.

Moulmein is home to six cyber cafes, which all receive their Internet access from Myanmar Info-Tech, one of four official Internet Service Providers inside Burma. Myanmar Info-Tech was founded in 2001, according to the government controlled newspaper the New Light of Myanmar, and began offering licenses to Internet cafes in 2005. All internet cafes in Burma are regulated by the Myanmar Teleport, the government ministry responsible for issuing internet regulations.

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