With Myanmar’s Internet Expansion, Cybercrimes Soar

By Aung Thiha 10 July 2019

YANGON—As internet access in Myanmar expanded with affordable SIM cards and reliable 3G and 4G network infrastructure, between 2015 and 2018 the country recorded over 2,000 cybercrimes, according to statistics from the Home Affairs Ministry.

A crime unit tasked with investigating cybercrimes was established in 2015 under the ministry, and the number of cybercrimes reported to the unit has increased year by year, said Police Colonel Nyunt Wai of the cybercrime unit.

Most of the cybercrimes reported involved online fraud and online sexual violence, the police colonel said.

“Other crimes included attacks on the government [hacking ministries’ websites] and spreading hate speech in connection with the Rakhine issue. [Cybercriminals] carried this out with fake accounts. They make sure they cannot be traced. But once we know their location, we work together with local police to identify them,” the he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

Fifty cybercrimes were reported in 2015; that number then shot up to around 300 in 2016, 550 in 2017, and 780 in 2018, he said, suggesting that many more may have gone unreported.

A cyber law has been drafted and will be submitted to the Parliament for debate, he said. Currently, only the Telecommunications Law is used in cases of cybercrime.

While social media has become a megaphone for political, racial and religious hate speech in the country, it has also been used for sextortion—a form of blackmail in which sexual information or images are used to extort sexual favors from the victim—as well as the defamation of female victims whose images are scandalously or embarrassingly photoshopped and shared online. Blackmail via hacking into victims accounts also occurs, he said.

It is important that victims keep video files and screenshots so that they can submit them as evidence to the police, Nyunt Wai said.

Secretary U Phone Myint of the Myanmar Information Security Association, a private agency that provides consultancy for online information security, stressed the need for the enactment of a cyber law in Myanmar.

“These days, information security has become 100 percent. Nothing can be done without cyber technology. We can only open cases if an actual law has been violated, so we need a cyber law,” he said.

Police from the cyber unit couldn’t provide a number of cases solved but have shared their findings with police stations where cases have been reported.

Translated from the Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.