Sunday, August 20, 2017

Facing the challenges of ensuring digital rights

Digital rights are human rights, participants in a nationwide forum were told this week. The Myanmar Digital Rights Forum discussed the issues raised by the increasing access, in recent years, of large numbers of Myanmar citizens to the internet, social media and mobile phones.

As internet access explodes, digital rights are still an emerging issue. Photo: StaffAs internet access explodes, digital rights are still an emerging issue. Photo: Staff

The question of digital rights has emerged most dramatically with the series of prosecutions under section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, which has resulted in prison sentences for people who have expressed their views on social media, participants heard.

But article 66(d) is only one of several issues, said Daw Ei Myat Noe Khin, an associate with the Phandeeyar technology laboratory, which helped organise the December 13-14 event.

“Rights groups and media organisations have noted the threats to freedom of speech posed by the arrests under article 66(d) of Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law of journalists and ordinary citizens for Facebook posts. However, article 66(d) is only one of many issues that need to be addressed,” she said.

The two-day forum brought together participants from local and international tech companies, government, media and CSOs from around the country, as well as international representatives.

Daw Htaike Htaike Aung, executive director of Myanmar ICT for Development Organisation (MIDO) and a co-organiser of the forum, said the concept of digital rights was new to many people. “Digital rights are not separate rights, but just basic human rights which everyone should enjoy, including on the internet. These include the right to freedom of expression and of assembly,” she said.

Daw Ei Myat Noe Khin said there were three main digital rights. “The first is privacy: people should have some control over how their personal information is collected and used by the government and companies. The second is the right to access information held by the government, and the third is protection from online hate speech calling for discrimination, hostility or violence based on race, ethnicity, or religion,” she said.

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Yangon Region MP Nay Phone Latt (NLD; Thingangyun 1) said, “Although we have access to the internet and social media, the imposition of certain rules can violate our digital rights. People should not have to fear the consequences of expressing their views.”

International experts also took part. Vicky Bowman, director of the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, who helped organise the forum, said, “These issues affect everyone. It’s important there should be wide consultation and the government and business representatives should be engaged in these issues.”

Myanmar Digital Rights forum was organised by Phandeeyar with the collaboration of Myanmar ICT for Development, Engage Media and the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB) with the support of the Swedish embassy.