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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Ooredoo-Myanmar among telecoms facing junta ban on travel: reports

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Qatar’s Ooredoo was among the telecommunications companies in Myanmar targeted by the military during the coup.

Senior foreign executives of major telecommunications firms operating in Myanmar have been told by the military that they must not leave the country without permission, Reuters reported on Monday, citing a person with direct knowledge.

The source told the news agency that Myanmar’s Posts and Telecommunications Department [PTD] issued an executive order mid-June ordering foreigners and Myanmar nationals to seek special authorisation to leave the country.

A week after the issuance of the order, telecom companies were sent another letter telling them they had until Monday, July 5th to fully implement intercept technology that the junta had previously requested be installed ahead of the military coup on 1 February this year.

The previous order affected several major companies including Qatar’s largest service provider Ooredoo which operates in the Asian country.

Norway’s Telenor, large state-backed operator MPT, and Mytel, a venture between Myanmar’s army and the Vietnamese defence ministry’s Viettel were also impacted.

Both Mytel and MPT are now under full control of the military government, according to a May report.

The spyware enables the military to eavesdrop on calls, access text messages, monitor internet usage, and track locations of users without the assistance of the companies.

In May, Reuters said it had reached out to a spokesman for the military several times for a comment but received no response.

Read also: Ooredoo in Myanmar targeted by military spyware ahead of coup: report

However, after seizing power earlier this year, the junta later announced plans to pass a cybersecurity bill to provide data and remove or block content that would disrupt “unity, stabilisation, and peace” upon request.

The junta also amended privacy laws to provide security forces to surveil communications.

Ooredoo has not publicly commented on the latest ban, with two sources telling Reuters that companies were warned by the military not to speak publicly or to the media.

Military coup

At the start of the coup, the military raided data centres and cut internet cables while holding at gunpoint employees who resisted to comply.

Sources revealed that the military later ordered firms to block phone numbers belonging to activists, opponents and human rights lawyers, obligating operators to share customer lists with authorities.

Later in March, a month after the military coup took place, the army had completely cut access to mobile data as part of an internet blackout.

In a comment made shortly after the coup, Ooredoo said it “regretfully complied” with orders to restrict mobile and wireless broadband in Myanmar.

Prior to the military coup, Myanmar implemented what is known as “lawful intercepts” which, unlike in democratic countries, are unlawfully used by law enforcement agencies to monitor citizens.

Surveillance was already widespread in Myanmar after authorities introduced a social media monitoring system in 2018 under the pretext of preventing foreign influence.

Military coup

The February coup began with the detainment of Aung San Suu Kyi President Win Myint and other senior figures from the National League for Democracy [NLD] during an early morning raid, followed by the announcement of a year-long state of emergency by the military.

The military attempted to justify the arrests saying it was in response to election fraud, granting power to army chief Min Aung Hlaing and replacing 24 ministers and deputies with 11 new members.

Since then, anti-coup protests have erupted across the country with those opposing the military rule facing raids, censorship and arrests.

This week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Myanmar’s military to release Suu Kyi, who is on trial for several charges, including corruption and accepting illegal payments.

As of now, more than 800 people have been killed by the military since the coup took place with over 4,100 people being detained by the army, including 20 who had been sentenced to death.


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