Myanmar’s burgeoning technology universe is beset by risks that could threaten users, according to a new report on the information and communication technology sector by the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business.
The Myanmar ICT Sector-Wide Impact Assessment (SWIA) is the third report of its kind, after MCRB published two others concentrating on oil and gas and tourism. The report took about one year to produce and incorporates research conducted across Mandalay, Sagaing and Yangon regions, as well as Shan, Mon and Kayin states.
Over the past few years, Myanmar has undergone a dramatic information and communications technology makeover, accompanied by a windfall of foreign investment and promises of new jobs. However, the sword has two edges – and new ways to connect have introduced fresh challenges, ones Myanmar may not necessarily be ready to deal with.
“Myanmar is – and will remain for some time – a high-risk country with poor governance,” the report said.
“The headlong rush to improve access to ICT services brings challenges, particularly in the absence of adequate policy and legal frameworks,” and with users so green.
The country’s technological development has raced ahead of supporting elements such as legal frameworks and digital literacy.
While teledensity has hit about 40 percent, the report said modern laws don’t currently address most human rights risks the ICT industry could incur in Myanmar, highlighting data privacy, cybersecurity and lawful interception as problem areas.
And though access has hit its highest-ever points, Myanmar’s ICT transformation has not touched everyone equally. Location and language have proven barriers.
“It is important to ensure groups are not maginalised from access,” said MCRB director Vicky Bowman at a September 24 press event.
“ICT is an opportunity either to promote national languages or to override them with Bamar [language]. We hope that it will be used as an opportunity to promote.”
However, access also breeds risks to data privacy and cybercrimes, which include child sexual abuse images, revenge porn, cyberbullying and “hate speech”, the report said.
Myanmar has seen various initiatives to stem the tide of hate speech, withFacebook “flower speech” stickers and illustrated community standardscoming out of a partnership between local organisations and the social media giant.
Facebook has played host to pernicious rumours in the past, including false allegations made in July 2014 that two Muslim teashop owners in Mandalay had raped a Buddhist girl, which preceded unrest that left two dead.
“The research and other reports have identified the disturbing patterns of anti-Muslim ‘hate speech’on social media in particular,” the report said.
“Yet ICTs also have the potential to improve the situation of some groups at risk, such as people living with disabilities, by providing them with services or income generation opportunities from which they were previously excluded.”
And danger doesn’t only exist online, as the sector also involves risks in real life. Ms Bowman said that many industry workers have not been using proper safety equipment, nor have they been properly paid – in some cases, working for people they owe money “so they keep working to pay off debts, which is a form of forced labour”.
MCRB’s report includes a number of recommendations for the government, which encourage framework-building and respect for human rights.
In the past, the organisation has worked with the government on consultations, and had high praise for the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) in particular.
“We really welcome the fact that the [communications] ministry, more than any other ministry, is systematically consulting on policies on laws. Sometimes the deadlines are a bit short, but nonetheless it’s an open and transparent process,” Ms Bowman said.
MCRB will continue to reach out to the government, and also collaborate with organisations such as UNICEF and child safety group ECPAT.