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BBC: Internet and Burmese Protests

Craig Newmark linked a BBC article that I found uplifting:

Images of saffron-robed monks leading throngs of people along the streets of Rangoon have been seeping out of a country famed for its totalitarian regime and repressive control of information.

The pictures are sometimes grainy and the video footage shaky – captured at great personal risk on mobile phones – but each represents a powerful statement of political dissent.

[. . .]

Burmese-born blogger Ko Htike, based in London, has transformed his once-literary blog into a virtual news agency and watched page views rise almost tenfold.

He publishes pictures, video and information sent to him by a network of underground contacts within the country.

“I have about 10 people inside, in different locations. They send me their material from internet cafes, via free hosting pages or sometimes by e-mail,” he told the BBC News website.

“All my people are among the Buddhists, they are walking along with the march and as soon as they get any images or news they pop into internet cafes and send it to me,” he said.

[. . .]

Reporters without Borders describe how a guide for cyber-dissidents provided to young Burmese was seized upon, copied and feverishly disseminated among a growing group of the young, politically active and computer-literate.

Bloggers are teaching others to use foreign-hosted proxy sites – such as your-freedom.net and glite.sayni.net – to view blocked sites and tip-toe virtually unseen through cyberspace, swapping tricks and links on their pages.

I really like to see people taking power for themselves, and I find it all the more gratifying to see the Internet used as a tool in this process.

I’m sure the Chinese government is watching this process very carefully. The BBC article indicates that the government used to be more effective in its Internet censorship efforts:

The regime stopped focusing on policing its virtual borders after a power struggle which resulted in the ousting of former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt in October 2004, explains Mr Brussels.

“Khin Nyunt was a military intelligence guy, he had a big network of spies and people were quite wise about all these kind of controls. After he was removed, they no longer have much knowledge in this area,” he said.

“There has been the opportunity for people on the inside to use their skills. These are young journalists and geeks, they know how to by-pass the blocking and the censorship.”

You could look at this cynically: progress depends on the government doing a poor job of censorship. But I take the inverse view: in the modern age, authoritarianism requires a greater diversity of disciplines to be successful, and the more people you have to involve in controlling the population, the less control you ultimately have, and the more points of vulnerability when cooperation fails within the regime.

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  • I recently heard that the government is closing down internet cafes and shutting off mobile phones so that less information can leak out of Burma.

    Did you hear that they raided some Buddhist monasteries and arrested 500 monks? Sickening, huh?