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Telecommunications law allows gov’t to spy: Licadho

A young man surfs the internet on his mobile phone last year in Phnom Penh.
A young man surfs the internet on his mobile phone last year in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Telecommunications law allows gov’t to spy: Licadho

The government has granted itself pervasive snooping powers to effectively monitor all electronic communication and punish anything deemed to have caused “national insecurity”, a legal analysis of the recently passed telecommunications law has warned.

In a briefing paper released yesterday, rights group Licadho cites a litany of “serious threats” posed by provisions in the law – approved in December – to privacy and freedom of expression. Among the chief concerns, Article 97 permits “secret surveillance” of any and all electronic telecommunications with the approval of a “legitimate authority”, which is not clearly defined.

Meanwhile, Article 80 states that “establishment, installation and utilisation of equipment in the telecommunications sector, if these acts lead to national insecurity, shall be punished by sentences from seven to 15 years imprisonment”.

Further, Article 66 generally prohibits telecommunications activity that “may affect public order or security”.

A new force of “telecommunications inspections officials” – granted police powers to enforce the law – will also be able to call on help from the military and request prosecutors to destroy evidence in criminal cases, the paper notes.

As the use of social media booms in Cambodia, the government has dedicated greater resources to regulating online communication.

“This law is a tool to manage and restrict public expression,” said Mi Nac, an advocacy specialist with the Cooperation Committee of Cambodia.

Licadho suggests the government could use the legislation to interfere in the private sector. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications can compel companies to hand over data.

In the event of “force majeure”, the ministry can order private operators to take “necessary measures”.

The regulator can also suspend or terminate the employment of staff at private companies for breaching the law and replace them with its own appointees in order to “check” the activities of the firms.

An industry insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity yesterday, said including custodial sentences for violations was a step too far.

“You can’t imprison employees; there should be a fine like any other country,” they said.

Representatives of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications could not be reached yesterday.

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