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Chronicling a crackdown

Associated Press

In this country, the proliferation of cell phone cameras and other recording devices has led to amusements and "gotcha" moments that embarrass politicians, entertainers and other public officials.

But there is a far more noble side to the Information Age, and it has demonstrated its clout in Myanmar. To a tyrant, information and the light of day are enemies that must be shut out at all costs. But in today's world, that is growing increasingly difficult, if not impossible.

Myanmar's bloody crackdown on monks who were peacefully protesting their government has been filmed and distributed worldwide. Mostly, this has not been done by career journalists. It has been done by amateurs with cell phones.

To date, the government has done everything in its power to stop this leaking of the truth. Officials have confiscated the equipment of journalists and are denying visas to any reporters seeking to enter the country. They have shut down all Internet and telephone service and are randomly frisking people on the street to take away their electronic equipment.

And still new images are circulating on YouTube and other Web sites. The Internet whizzes always are several steps ahead of the censors. One recent Chicago Tribune report told of a computer program called "Glite," which allows users to connect to computers in remote locations far from the reach of censors. A number of semi-secret Internet cafes have sprouted in Myanmar, run by people willing to help users get their images out.

Nothing stays secret for long. The latest reports are that the government is establishing concentration camps in which to place the thousands of monks and others arrested in protests.

The success of modern technology stands in stark contrast to the failure of the United Nations, whose efforts to help the situation have been disappointing, at best. A U.N. envoy finally got access to Myanmar's leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, but only after many days of waiting. The meeting apparently produced nothing of substance.

Short of military intervention (which would pose a litany of new problems, risks and unintended consequences), there is no weapon quite as effective as information. Complain all you want about surreptitious videos of bad behavior and sordid antics finding their way into the public domain. The Information Age may prove to be freedom's best friend yet.