The Open Net Initiative, in “Pulling the Plug: A Technical Review of the Internet Shutdown in Burma,”
examines the role of information technology, citizen journalists, and bloggers in Burma and presents a technical analysis of the abrupt shutdown of Internet connectivity by the Burmese government on September 29, 2007, following its violent crackdown on protesters there. Completely cutting international Internet links is rare. Nepal, which severed all international Internet connections when the King declared martial law in February 2005, is the only other state to take such drastic action. Although extreme, the measures taken by the Burmese government to limit citizens’ use of the Internet during this crisis are consistent with previous OpenNet Initiative (ONI) findings in Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and Tajikistan, where authorities controlled access to communication technologies as a way to limit social mobilization around key political events. What makes the Burmese junta stand out, however, is its apparent goal of also preventing information from reaching a wider international audience.
This report, compiled in an impressively short period, is must reading to understand how governments are responding to the communications revolution.
As the authors note, the events in Burma provide a “chilling example of the limitations of the Internet.” But there’s also reason for hope:
However, even the vast majority of Burmese without access to or knowledge of the Internet may have benefited from the enduring achievement of a small band of citizen bloggers and journalists—the uploading of vital, relevant information to the Internet was broadcast back in via television and radio and spread through personal networks and communities throughout the country.