Burma loosens Internet censorship


The government of Burma lifted bans on several previously-blocked websites such as foreign news and political websites, as a wave of liberalization sweeps across the historically oppressive country, according to recent Internet filtering tests by the Open Net Initiative.

Beginning in September 2011, following the formal end of military rule that March, censorship of international news sites, such as Voice of America, BBC, and Radio Free Asia was significantly reduced, writes Irene Poetranto of the Open Net Initiative, in an Oct. 23 blog post.

That October, Radio Free Asia reported that Burma's head of press censorship said that such censorship as "not in harmony with democratic practices" and that censorship "should be abolished in the near future." A formal censorship lift came in August 2012, according to RFA, but content deemed threatening to state security remains censored.

In 2005 ONI began yearly testing of Internet filtering in Burma. Tests conducted from Aug. 4 to 9, 2012 reveal "that both the scope and depth of content found to be filtered were drastically reduced compared to all previous rounds of ONI testing," writes Poetranto.

Internet service providers in Burma use an explicit blockpage to block content with an email address to request the re-evaluation of the categorization of the page. Almost all of the blocked URLs fall into ONI's "social" category and include pornographic, drug or alcohol-related content.

"Also found blocked were gambling websites, online dating sites, sex education, and gay and lesbian content," writes Poetranto.

Some sites that fall into ONI's "Internet tool" category were also blocked, such censorship circumvention tools and filesharing services. Very few websites that fall into ONI's "political" category were blocked, in contrast to previous years' findings.

"Almost all of the websites of opposition political parties, critical political content, and independent news sites previously found to be blocked were found to be accessible during 2012 testing. Only 5 of the 541 tested URLs categorized as political content were found to be blocked," writes Poetranto.

For more:
- read the blog post, "Update on information controls in Burma"

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