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After lobbying telcos, Myanmar’s board bans executives from leaving

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SINGAPORE – The board has told top foreign executives of major telecommunications companies in Myanmar that they should not leave the country without permission, said a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

A confidential order from Myanmar’s Post and Telecommunications Department (PTD) in mid-June said that senior executives, both foreigners and Myanmar nationals, must seek special authorization to leave the country, the person said.

A week later, telecommunications companies were sent a second letter telling them they had until Monday, July 5 to fully implement the interception technology that they had previously been asked to install to allow authorities to spy on calls, messages and traffic. web and track users themselves. the source said. Reuters has not seen the orders.

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The directives follow pressure on companies from the board, which faces daily protests from its opponents and a growing number of insurance companies to activate spyware technology.

An army spokesman did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The board has never commented on the electronic surveillance effort, but announced shortly after taking power its goal of passing a cybersecurity bill that would require telecom providers to provide data when requested and remove or block any content that it is deemed to be disrupting “unity, stabilization and peace.” It also amended privacy laws to free up security forces to intercept communications.

The travel ban comes after increased pressure from military officials to finalize the surveillance team’s deployment. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said the ban was intended to pressure telecommunications companies to stop activating spyware technology, although the order itself does not specify a reason.

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Three other telecoms sources, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said authorities had increased pressure on companies to implement the interception, but declined to elaborate. Two sources said board officials had repeatedly warned companies not to speak publicly or to the media about the interception.

Telenor declined to comment. There was no immediate response to requests for comment from Ooredoo, the state-owned MPT, and Mytel, a joint venture between Viettel from Vietnam and a military-owned conglomerate from Myanmar.

Months before the Feb. 1 coup, Internet and telecom service providers were ordered to install spyware interception to allow the military to eavesdrop on citizens’ communications, Reuters reported in May.

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Reuters was unable to establish how widely the surveillance technology has been installed and deployed, but four sources said Norway’s Telenor ASA and Qatar’s Ooredoo QPSC had yet to fully comply.

One of the first actions by the army on February 1 was to cut off Internet access and it has yet to be fully restored, with telecommunications receiving regular lists of activists’ websites and phone numbers to block.

The moves have left the future uncertain for Myanmar’s telecommunications sector, which had been one of the fastest growing in the world. Telenor said on Friday that it is evaluating the future of its operations in the country, and a source told Reuters that it is considering the sale of its Myanmar unit.

(Reporting by Fanny Potkin in Singapore; Additional reporting by Poppy McPherson in Bangkok; Editing by Matthew Tostevin, William Mallard, and Daniel Wallis)

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