Norway’s Telenor says Myanmar unit sale got here after junta’s strain on surveillance tech

By Fanny Potkin

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Norwegian telecom agency Telenor is promoting its Myanmar operations to keep away from European Union sanctions after “continued strain” from Myanmar’s army junta to activate intercept surveillance expertise, the corporate’s Asia head advised Reuters.

Telenor introduced in July it might promote its Myanmar unit to Lebanese funding agency M1 Group for $105 million, prompting an outcry from activists within the nation who’ve been counting on its companies for communications.

A Reuters investigation in Could discovered telecom and web service suppliers in Myanmar had been secretly ordered within the months earlier than the junta’s Feb. 1 coup to put in invasive expertise that will enable the military to freely snoop on the communications of residents.

“Because the army took over, it has been clear for us that our presence would require Telenor Myanmar to activate intercept gear and expertise for the usage of Myanmar authorities,” Asia head Jørgen Rostrup stated in an interview.

Permitting the activation of the intercept expertise within the absence of authorized or regulatory safeguards in Myanmar to guard human rights would breach a 2018 EU arms embargo towards the Southeast Asian nation, he added.

“Telenor Myanmar has not activated the gear as of but and won’t accomplish that voluntarily,” he stated. He declined to touch upon whether or not the intercept expertise had been put in at Telenor’s operations in Myanmar.

Rostrup’s feedback signify the primary time Telenor has addressed the impression of the intercept on its technique for the reason that junta seized energy.

A spokesman for the Myanmar army didn’t reply requires remark. Norway’s trade ministry declined to remark, saying the sale of the unit was a choice for Telenor’s board and administration to make.

Many governments enable for what are generally known as ‘lawful intercepts’ for use by regulation enforcement companies to catch criminals. However in most democratic nations and even some authoritarian regimes, the expertise just isn’t ordinarily employed with none sort of authorized course of, cybersecurity specialists say.

Myanmar activists have known as for Telenor to halt or delay the sale. However Rostrup stated Telenor felt it had no alternative however to withdraw from the nation as respecting the EU embargo meant it couldn’t guarantee the security of its staff and permitting the intercept to be activated could be “a whole breach of our values and rules”.

Reuters reported in July that senior executives at main telecommunications companies in Myanmar have been advised by the junta that they need to search particular authorisation to go away the nation. The journey ban was adopted by a second order instructing telecom companies to completely activate the intercept.

Telenor declined to touch upon the journey ban.

Rostrup stated Telenor had chosen M1 after discovering it had “no direct relationships with authorities or the army in Myanmar”.

The deal was submitted to Myanmar authorities for regulatory evaluation not too long ago, he stated, including that the method is anticipated to take 60 days.

Previous to the coup, Telenor had been one of many largest overseas buyers within the nation with its Myanmar operations accounting for 7% of its complete earnings final yr. It wrote off its $783 million funding in its Myanmar unit in Could.

(Reporting by Fanny Potkin; Further reporting by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; Modifying by Edwina Gibbs)