Norwegian telecoms chief denounces cyber security bill in Myanmar

February 16, 2021 0 By boss

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Telenor, the Norwegian state-controlled telecoms operator that is one of the biggest foreign investors in Myanmar, has decried a cyber security bill that the country’s junta is attempting to introduce after seizing power in a coup.

Sigve Brekke, Telenor’s chief executive, told the Financial Times that the bill, which would grant authorities in Myanmar sweeping powers over digital content, was too broad, failed to consider human rights and should not be implemented as written.

“We are very, very clear in our response. How that’s going to be received, I don’t know . . . It is a very uncertain and irregular situation,” Brekke added.

Campaigners have condemned the proposed law as draconian. Human Rights Watch said it would give the junta “almost unlimited power to access user data, putting anyone who speaks out at risk”.

On February 1, the military overthrew the democratically elected government and arrested senior officials including Aung San Suu Kyi after less than a decade of civilian rule.

Telenor, which is majority-owned by the Norwegian government, faces a dilemma in Myanmar after the regime ordered telecoms providers to block local access to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

On Monday, Facebook, which has more than 21m users in Myanmar and is the main portal to the internet for many citizens, said the legislation would “silence peaceful political speech” and called for the “immediate retraction of this law”.

Telenor had published a list of internet shutdown orders on its website since the coup, but on Sunday said that it was no longer possible for it to disclose the directives from authorities. Brekke declined to say why the company could no longer do so.

“The military rulers are implementing new type of rules and regulations and now we are not able to be open about everything that happens. That is a big concern for us,” Brekke added.

On Tuesday, Myanmar experienced a second consecutive overnight internet blackout.

The Telenor chief has identified four reservations with the cyber security proposal: that it failed to consider human rights such as free speech and personal privacy; that implementing it in the middle of a state of emergency was the wrong time; that it lacked any oversight; and that it was too broad, covering matters such as lawful intercept that were part of the telecoms law.

Brekke refused to be drawn on how Telenor would respond to further restrictions. “I cannot speculate about the future. We just have to see what happens,” he said.

The Norwegian government declined to comment on Telenor’s operations in Myanmar, while Brekke said, “the stakeholders in Norway understand the dilemmas we are in”.

Telenor first entered Myanmar in 2013 under a transitional government, and Brekke said he was “a bit proud” of the opening up of the country in recent years.

“I’m worried that this situation in the country is not coming to a peaceful resolution. When it comes to our operations, I just need to do what I can do now. I cannot say what the coming days and weeks will look like,” he said.

He added that it was “very sad” to see Myanmar take a “step back” but added that Telenor had helped people communicate and gain internet access after 50 years of the country being “locked down”.

Additional reporting by John Reed in Bangkok

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