The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on February 15 issued a statement allaying concerns about the establishment of the National Internet Gateway (NIG), saying they were unfounded.

The ministry said it has noted with disappointment that the NIG has been misinterpreted, especially by some foreign media, despite repeated explanations by authorities.

It reiterated that the NIG was created with the aim of facilitating and managing internet connections and strengthening national security and tax collection, as well as to maintain social order and protect the precious national culture.

To achieve this, the government established an inter-ministerial committee in 2019 that had conducted an extensive study on the internet infrastructure models of many different countries around the world. It found that most countries have some form of internet gateway and the respective regulation.

Following the study, the NIG sub-decree was approved on February 16 last year. It was prepared in a transparent manner and consultations were held with many experts in the sector, both private operators and the relevant governmental institutions, it said.

The ministry added that the NIG will serve as an effective tool to enhance national revenue collection and will also contribute to thwarting cyber crime such as the illegal use of cross-border network connections, illicit online gambling and internet scams, among others.

“This mechanism has no provision authorising the collection of consumers’ data or restricting freedom of expression.

“The government will prepare a separate bill on personal data protection as soon as the draft law on cybersecurity is concluded,” it noted.

On February 1, three UN special rapporteurs – Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders – issued a joint statement calling on the Kingdom to halt the sub-decree establishing the NIG.

They said it will have a serious negative impact on internet freedom, human rights defenders and civil society in the country and will further shrink the “already-restrictive civic space in Cambodia”.

However, the ministry dismissed such concerns as unfounded.

“On the contrary, the government respects all individuals’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression and protects personal data. All of these things are enshrined in the law, Constitution, ratified international human right treaties, civil and criminal codes, and telecommunication regulations,” it said.