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Internet cafés in Sittwe ordered to monitor customers

(Mizzima News/IFEX) - Monitoring of internet cafés has been stepped up in a big way by the Burmese military junta authorities, where a hawk's eye is being kept on surfers, café owners in Sittwe, Rakhine State said.

Café owners have been ordered to keep a record of the names of users, the websites they surf and whom they chat with, they said.

"Officials have given us a three-page regulation and ordered us to keep a record of the names of users, the websites they visit, and who they send emails to. Then officials come on surprise checks to our shops," an internet café owner in Sittwe told Mizzima.

There are seven internet cafés in Sittwe and most of the users are middle aged people, students and youths. The cafés charge users Kyat 500 (approx. US$76) to over Kyat 1,000 (approx. US$153) per hour.

The junta's move to come down heavily on internet users and tighten internet security stems from an attempt to prevent leakage of information to organizations and the media in exile.

"Some young users used to bypass checks to surf news websites operated from exile and some sent emails and photographs outside Burma," a café owner noted.

A notice pasted on the wall of the internet cafés warns surfers not to visit foreign-based restricted websites.

"We can record only website links the users visit and their list of contacts. If we keep tabs on everything the authorities want, no one will come to the café," another internet café owner said.

The Thai-based All Arakan Students and Youths Congress (AASYC) Secretary Aung Man Oo felt the tightening of internet security was preventive in nature. It is a precautionary measure by the regime to prevent "unrest and commotion" in the run up to the 2010 elections.

The Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) Chairman in Sittwe summoned all internet café owners to his office in early February 2010 and directed them to keep a record of personal profiles of all users.

The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement in April 2009, which said Burma is one of the 10 worst countries in the world as regards suppressing internet users.

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