Minister of Post and Telecommunications Chea Vandeth has clarified that the sub-decree on national internet gateways is not a tool for capturing data from internet users or restricting freedom of the internet, as the gateways are prepared for major provinces in the future.

The sub-decree on internet gateways was approved in February last year to facilitate and manage internet connections and strengthen national security and tax collection. It would also help to maintain social order and protect national culture, the ministry said.

The revelations come after a number of NGOs and civil society groups expressed concern about freedom of expression and security over the use of the internet. The questions were raised at the National Conference on Digital Rights and Internet Freedom in Cambodia on January 26.

Responding to these concerns, Vandeth told The Post last weekend that there had been many misinterpretations about the purpose of establishing these gateways and that despite the ministry repeatedly clarifying them, some organisations working in the field still appeared to be confused about them.

The minister stated that the establishment of this national internet gateway was to facilitate and manage internet connections. There were two main elements – one to manage the internal exchange of date, and the other to deal with international internet traffic.

He said the creation of the gateways was not intended to capture users’ personal data or restrict freedom of expression or the press.

“Internet gateways have been set up in almost every country, not just Cambodia. The reason countries create these gateways is to facilitate flow and manage internet traffic within the country and abroad,” he said.

According to Vandeth, national internet gateways will be set up in many places in Cambodia, including Sihanoukville, Poipet and Bavet towns. While the main gateway will be in Phnom Penh, the ministry will consider opening them in other places in the future as necessary.

“The gateways will be operated only by those licensed to do so by the Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia. It is completely contrary to what has been said by those NGOs who have suggested that they will be the only gateways. This is untrue. Please do not confuse the public anymore,” he said.

Vandeth claimed that in order to protect the legitimate interests of the operators, and to protect the principles of fair competition, honesty and transparency between the state and the operators, the ministry was also preparing a draft law on the protection of private data and new laws related to information and communication technology.

While creating this new legal document, the ministry will invite stakeholders for consultative meetings and will consider inviting NGOs to consult on the drafting of these laws.

Cambodian Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun, one of the more than 10 institutions that hosted the National Conference on Digital Rights and Internet Freedom in Cambodia last week, welcomed the minister’s response to the concerns of civil society groups.

Chanroeun expected a working group of organisations working on digital and internet systems to have the opportunity to provide input around the establishment of legal standards for the safe use of these systems.

“From the perspective of civil society organisations, the sub-decree on the national internet gateway has a number of articles, especially articles 6, 12, 14 and 16, which seem to give power entirely to the government or ministries to block online content,” he said.