Tools of digital repression

March 2, 2021

Over a decade of “disciplined” democracy, the Myanmar military and the security forces under their control has built up an arsenal of digital weapons now utilised as part of the junta's brutal crackdown against protesters peacefully resisting the unlawful military coup.

An examination of recent Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Transport and Communications budgets has uncovered a host of purchases by the Myanmar police force and the domestic intelligence agency that enables the military to collect digital data, hack passwords, clone phones, track signals, gather social media intelligence, analyse photos and process large amounts of data. The bulk of this technology comes from the West.

After the military seized power in their illegitimate coup on February 1, 2021, the security forces have met the nationwide civil disobedience movement with a wave of arrests, violence and intimidation. Thirty unarmed civilians have been killed and many injured. These human rights violations are enabled by the transfer of technology to the military and its institutions, including the police.

Our Evidence

Justice For Myanmar has obtained Ministry of Home Affairs budget files from 2018-21 and Ministry of Transport and Communications budget files from 2019-21, which include budgeted items for the Myanmar Police Force, Bureau of Special of Investigation under the Ministry of Home Affairs and Department of IT and Cyber Security under the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

Justice For Myanmar has also obtained a procurement document from the Myanmar military related to spare parts and maintenance for Skylark drones, procured from Elbit Systems of Israel, in likely breach of Israeli law. Israel’s High Court imposed a ban on weapons sales after the 2017 genocide against the Rohingya.

Justice For Myanmar has provided copies of all documents to the New York Times.

Read the New York Times investigation:

View the spare parts proposal for Elbit Systems' Skylark drones here.

An international network of businesses has enabled the Myanmar security forces to gain technology for surveillance and repression. Before the coup, the Myanmar military controlled the police and Bureau of Special Investigation. This structure meant any items transferred to the police could also be used for military purposes. Since the February 1 coup, the Myanmar military now has full and unrestricted access to technology procured by the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

Justice For Myanmar has identified a number of businesses in budgets passed by parliament. For instance, technology from MSAB (Sweden) X1 (USA), Open Text (Canada) and BlackBag/Cellebrite (USA/Israel) supports social media surveillance, and the unlocking and access of devices. Items from Lumex Instruments (Canada), Midian Electronics (USA), Hytera (China) and Icom (Japan) are for police communications. Software from DataWalk (USA) and VMware (USA) enables big data and police IT systems.

This comes in addition to the World Bank-financed spectrum monitoring system that the military can use to track activists and journalists (see more on spectrum monitoring in Justice For Myanmar's Nodes of Corruption report).

Any international business that supplies arms and dual use goods to Myanmar is complicit in the shocking human rights violations inflicted on the people, including atrocity crimes, perpetrated by the military and security forces.

The above items are in addition to the military’s procurement through the Ministry of Defence (see details here).

Businesses that have provided technology to the Myanmar military and security forces must take all available measures to immediately disable access, including blocking software and denying maintenance, parts and support.

Justice For Myanmar reiterates calls for a global arms embargo against Myanmar as long as the brutal and illegitimate Myanmar military government remains in control and the military is outside of civilian oversight.

The international community must stand with the people of Myanmar by acting now, for justice, democracy and accountability.

Correction (Jun. 13, 2021)
An earlier version incorrectly described Magnet Forensics as domiciled in the USA. It is in fact domiciled in Canada.


DataWalk (Mar. 5, 2021)