Justice For Myanmar (JFM), an activist group critical of the Myanmar military, is demanding that the Myanmar public boycott Mytel — a Myanmar telecom firm that is partly owned by Vietnamese telecom giant Viettel. The group is accusing the two telecom firms of providing Myanmar’s military with access to technology, infrastructure, and personal data of subscribed users, according to a report released on Sunday.
“It is a serious concern that the Myanmar and Vietnam militaries have access to personal data, not just of Mytel users but also other individuals that those users are interacting with, including those outside of Myanmar,” Justice For Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung told KrASIA.
While Viettel is wholly owned by Vietnam’s Defense Ministry, the telecom firm also possesses a 49% stake in Myanmar’s Mytel — which has accumulated over 10 million users since its inception in 2018. 28% of Mytel is owned by Star High Public Company, a subsidiary of Myanmar military-owned group Myanmar Economic Corporations, and the remaining 23% is owned by a consortium of 11 Myanmar companies.
The 160-page report said that international banks including HSBC, Standard Chartered, Taipei Fubon Commercial Bank, May Bank, and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (MUFG) have loaned around USD 272 million to Viettel in the last four years, a time when the Myanmar military, also known as the Tatmadaw, has been accused of committing genocoide and other war crimes against humanity.
Yadanar Maung added, “The role of a military should be for national defence, under civilian control, and fully accountable. There is an inherent conflict of interest within the Myanmar military because they are a public institution carrying out their security role and also doing private business.”
Unrestricted access to Mytel data
The report added that Mytel provides the Myanmar military direct access to “a massive source of data” on Myanmar citizens, which the military could deploy in their operations in Myanmar’s ethnic areas.
“Because of their [Viettel] unrestricted access to Mytel data, that data can be utilized for surveillance, including journalists and civil society activists,” she emphasized, “That is a serious threat to democracy and everyone in Myanmar should be concerned.”
Based on open-source material and a clutch of documents that were leaked by a Viettel subsidiary, the report further urged the Myanmar public to boycott Mytel and called on the government to reform its privacy law to protect its citizens.
“We are calling for the Myanmar public to boycott Mytel. Those who have a Mytel SIM card should destroy it. The democratically-elected government needs to urgently pass reforms to protect the privacy of Myanmar people, which it has power to act on under the Constitution,” said Yadanar Maung.
In February, Facebook closed 13 fake accounts and 10 pages in Myanmar and Vietnam with links to Mytel, Viettel and Gapit Communications, a PR firm in Vietnam that posed as “independent telecom consumer news hubs” in an attempt to discredit its competitors in Myanmar.