In Person

Forum Helps Netizens Fight for their Digital Rights

By Nyein Nyein 24 January 2018

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The second Myanmar Digital Rights Forum in Yangon last week was a chance for tech heads from Myanmar and neighboring countries to share their thoughts and concerns about internet privacy and freedom of expression.

The two-day forum, on Jan. 18 and 19, brought together more than 130 participants from civil society, government, media and tech companies including global giants Microsoft and Facebook.

Daw Ei Myat Noe Khin, the Digital Rights Manager of Pandeeyar, a local technology hub that co-hosted the event, spoke with The Irrawaddy afterward about some of the challenges of the digital age and why netizens need to be aware of their rights.

What were the goals of the second Myanmar Digital Rights Forum?

We gathered to share our opinions about what the priorities for the digital rights movement should be in 2018. We had the first Digital Rights Forum in December 2016 and the action plan we set afterward was carried out. So this year we thought not only about civil society groups like us, but about also having the government, media institutions and private technology companies come together to collaborate on a movement for better digital rights in Myanmar.

What activities did you plan for during the forum?

We will focus on three priorities in 2018. The forum mainly focused on equal access to the net, freedom of expression and the privacy of online data.

Based on these three priorities, we narrowed down our plan of action. We want further development of e-government and more access to data on government websites for every user, including disable people, women and ethnic communities. We also discussed the use of a standard Unicode for Myanmar as a whole and supporting the Unicode Migration Plan, including ethnic languages.

Regarding freedom of expression, we shared the view that it would be better to get access to digital information. In addition to having easy access to this information, the government should adopt a right-to-information law that promotes digital information, protects digital rights and repeals Article 66 (d) of the Telecommunication Law. There is also a need to provide digital literacy to the people using both informal and formal methods, including to lawmakers and judges. It is also important to adopt legislation protecting users’ data privacy and to create a lawful interception [of telecommunications] framework.

Providing wider awareness to internet users about protecting their data privacy and data security is also one of the key issues we discussed.

Every stakeholder pointed out that the government needs to conduct more public consultations with relevant organizations before they enact any new legislation. When it prepared the amendments to the Telecommunication Law, the government did not fulfill its promise to hold public consultations. Whether the government is planning new legislation or drafting it, the process must include adequate discussion. If the government just rushes to approve the law or to amend the law, it will not bring any good results.

What issues did the participants want to talk about?

When we talk about digital, some people only think about computers and they think digital rights are not related. But this year we found that many CSO [civil society organization] representatives joined the forum because they have become interested in this issue. And not only from Myanmar. Participants came from Southeast Asian countries and other Asian countries such as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Our situation is similar to that of other countries in ASEAN. We have the Article 66 (d) issue, and the Philippines and Thailand have similar sections [that restrict freedom of expression]. Myanmar is moving toward having digital rights. If necessary, the digital rights movement has to develop as an ASEAN bloc.

Why do we need legislation to protect our online data privacy?

We asked the government to think about adopting a data protection law and about how they can protect users’ privacy and data online. During our privacy panel, we also talked about who is responsible for data security. The government has the responsibility to create a [lawful interception] framework. The private companies also need to think about providing privacy as a default.

What are the impacts of the [Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens] enacted last year?

Sections similar to Article 66 (d) of the Telecommunication Law are in that law. We have laws that are overlapping. And there are no specific definitions, and the meanings are broad. These are causing problems at the moment.

Any new law should be precise if enacted. If the meaning is too broad, anyone can interpret it to fit their interests. When the draft law came out, CSOs asked that it not be enacted in a hurry and pushed for more public consultations. Pandeeyar’s partner organizations tried to meet with the drafting committee but failed.

We continue our demands to revoke Article 66 (d) of the Telecommunication Law. It severely hinders freedom of expression and the fight against corruption.

How careful should internet users be with their privacy?

Some people think they don’t need to take control of their privacy. They say they have nothing to hide so there is no need. But privacy control is not about hiding; it is about controlling how much we want others to know. We need to know what information is being taken. Everyone needs to think again.

If we are prepared to protect our privacy, it is better. We need to register our information whenever we use social media services such as Facebook. It is not all free — we have to exchange data, so we have to think about what to publicize.

If we are going to download an application, we are asked to share our information. Some applications do not need to know all of our private data, but we ignore that and just provide our data. So we are providing our data without really needing to. We can control this.