The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has refuted criticisms of the sub-decree establishing the National Internet Gateway (NIG) after civil society and media organisations lambasted the new law as restricting the fundamental rights of citizens to use the internet.
A joint statement issued on February 19 by 62 NGOs, community trade unions and domestic and international media associations condemned the edict, saying it would restrict the essential public freedoms.
In particular, rights to freedom of expression, access to information and privacy as well as the competitiveness of internet service providers in Cambodia could be seriously impinged with significant negative impacts on the nation’s economic growth.
On the same day, however, the ministry issued a press release observing that there had been strong reactions from the press and other associations warning of government overreach intended to capture data, monitor users’ conversations and restrict freedom of expression, following China’s example.
The ministry rebutted such assertions, saying there were no stipulations in the sub-decree pertaining to capturing data, spying on users’ conversations or restricting freedom of expression. Such allegations were baseless and politically motivated, it claimed.
Instead, the ministry announced plans to draft a new law concerning the protection of private data after a draft law on information and communication security is finalized in the near future.
According to the ministry, preparation of the NIG sub-decree was made openly in consultation with experts from the telecommunication sector, private operators and other relevant institutions.
“This sub-decree aims to increase the efficiency of national revenue collection based on the principles of fairness and honest competition with transparency between the state and operators. It will also help prevent illegal cross-border network links, including online gambling, cyber threats, pornography and online fraud,” the press release said.
The joint statement of protest insisted the government repeal the statute, noting that among its 20 articles and 11 chapters, restrictions laid out in articles 6 and 14 will require the Telecommunications Regulator of Cambodia and other institutions to cooperate in taking preventative and corrective measures to disable all network connections which could detrimentally affect national revenue, security, social order, morality, culture or traditions.
“The language of this article is broad and unclear, enabling it to be interpreted and applied by government authorities against human rights activists or any other community groups or citizens who express criticism of the government on social media or elsewhere on the internet,” the statement said.
Sok Chenda, CEO of Mekong Net, one of Cambodia’s leading internet service providers (ISPs), told The Post that she was not aware of all the details of the sub-decree but believed it would have an impact on her business.
“It’s true that the government wants to control the internet gateway. But more important is how the government will include all ISPs under one gateway as a single system,” she said.