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Cyber café customers will no longer be allowed to use external drives in computers, according to a new regulation issued by Burma’s communications ministry that further tightens the clamp on the country’s growing population of internet users.
The ban on CDs, USB sticks and floppy drives comes two months after the government prohibited the use of services like Skype and VZOchat that allow internet users to make free or cheap international phone calls.
The justification then was that there had been a drop in income from overseas calls, although analysts claimed it more likely stemmed from the government’s inability to monitor VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services, as these are known.
The external drive ban adds to a long list of regulations that govern ownership of internet cafes and that threaten heavy penalties if they are ignored. Already foreigners are required to hand over passport details, address and phone number before using an internet café computer, while café owners must submit monthly records of users’ internet usage data to the Myanma Post and Telecommunications Ministry.
At around two percent of the country, Burma’s internet penetration ranks among the lowest in the world, but numbers appear to be on the increase. Despite draconian laws surrounding the transfer of information, it has developed a thriving underground blogging community.
The evolution of social media in Burma, which is described by the Committee to Protect Journalists as both an ‘enemy of the internet’ and one of the world’s ‘worst countries in which to be a blogger’, appears to have concerned the government, particularly in light the internet-driven Arab uprisings this year.
A so-called upgrade of the country’s internet service shortly after the elections last year is claimed by media watchdogs to be used to reinforce surveillance and repression of national web users.
A joint report by Reporters Without Borders and Burma Media Association said that the Hantharwaddy National Gateway, Burma’s main link to the global internet, will be controlled exclusively by the military. Additionally, the introduction of an additional ISP means that the government can now shut off the civilian service during times of political unrest whilst keeping its own system online.