Myanmar telcos reportedly pressured to install spyware

The failed state of Myanmar, which is currently run by a military junta, is apparently preventing telecoms execs from leaving the country until they install wire taps.

The news comes courtesy of Reuters, which stresses much of it comes from uncorroborated anonymous sources. The military conducted a coup earlier this year after the political party it supports was soundly beaten in a general election. The result is a civil war in which many separate militia conduct ad hoc attacks on army forces.

Myanmar’s ruling junta understandably reckons much of this resistance is being coordinated by telephone and the internet, so would really like to be able to intercept these communications in order to get a step ahead of its adversaries. According to the Reuters report it therefore demanded the country’s four operators install spyware on their networks, which they’re presumably reluctant to do.

Reuters has been told telecoms execs of all nationalities last month got an order from the Myanmar government demanding they request special authorisation if they want to leave the country. This is being interpreted as a method of exerting additional pressure on those execs to implement the wire tap request. While MPT and Mytel seem to already be state controlled, this move puts Ooredoo and Telenor in an awkward spot.

Reuters didn’t manage to get any of the telcos to comment but late last week Telenor published a press release titled ‘Telenor evaluates options in Myanmar’. “On May 4, Telenor Group announced an impairment of Telenor Myanmar due to the worsening economic and business environment outlook and a deteriorating security and human rights situation, with limited prospects of improvement,” it said.

“Telenor Group underlined at the time that the operations in Myanmar continued and that the future presence would depend on the developments in the country and the ability to contribute positively to the people of Myanmar. Due to the continued situation, Telenor Group is in the process of evaluating various options with regards to its presence in the country. The evaluations are ongoing, and Telenor Group will not make any further comments.”

We bet they are. The whole situation seems to be a complete mess. On top of the long-running ethnic crises a number of separatist movements seem to be active. The current civil war is a reversion to the post-independence status quo in the country, but the exceptional resistance to the military junta is apparently driving it to ever more extreme countermeasures.

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