Cambodia delays controversial internet gateway

Cambodia is delaying an internet gateway that had raised privacy and freedom of expression concerns, halting its planned mid-week implementation due to Covid-19-related disruptions, a government official said on Tuesday.

Activists and UN rights experts had called for a halt to the project, which will funnel all web traffic through a state-controlled entry point, saying it would have a ‘devastating’ effect on freedom of expression and privacy.

“The establishment of (the national Internet gateway) will be postponed due to the disruption caused by the spread of Covid-19,” So Visothy, secretary of state at the telecommunications ministry, told AFP.

“We’ll let you know when we have the new date,” he said, but declined to say if any part of the system was already in use.

The gateway, which was due to come into effect on February 16, appeared to lead Cambodia down a path beaten by Phnom Penh’s main economic partner, China, which keeps the world online behind a “great firewall” and blocks major Western platforms such as Twitter, Facebook. and YouTube.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Cambodian Foreign Ministry issued a statement attacking foreign media criticizing the scheme.

A spokesperson insisted that it was set up in a “transparent manner” and that consultations had taken place with experts and relevant institutions.

“The creation of a national internet gateway (…) serves as an effective tool to improve national revenue collection,” the spokesperson said, adding that it would also help thwart cybercrimes, gambling illicit online and Internet scams.

“The government respects individuals’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression and protects personal data,” the spokesperson said.

They said claims that Cambodian authorities monitor and monitor internet activity, intercept and censor digital communications and collect personal data are “baseless”.

In 2021, at least 39 Cambodians were arrested, imprisoned or served with arrest warrants for online posts that violated government censorship, according to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) .

The gateway, announced last year, comes ahead of elections due in 2023 and the CCHR said its completion could allow the government to block dissenting opinion online ahead of the election.

Reporters Without Borders denounced the scheme as “a level of information control unprecedented since the Khmer Rouge dictatorship”.

UN human rights experts warned earlier this month that the gateway could have a serious negative impact on internet freedom, human rights defenders and civil society in the country. , further shrinking the already restrictive civic space in Cambodia.

“Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is very difficult to contain it again,” UN experts said in a statement.

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© AFP 2022


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