In May, Coda Story’s Chaewon Chung reported how Cambodia’s government had adopted new emergency laws amid the coronavirus pandemic, allowing unlimited surveillance and control of the country’s press and social media.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has leveraged the pandemic to accelerate a long-running crackdown on dissent. Surveillance of social media has led to the arrest of journalists and dozens of members of the public.
Now the authorities are planning to further tighten control of the internet with a new decree that would oblige all web traffic to run through a “national internet gateway.”
According to the document, obtained by Nikkei Asian Review earlier this month, the gateway will be used to enhance “national revenue collection,” protect “national security” and assure “social order.”
The gateway will be managed by one or more government-appointed operators who will collaborate with state institutions such as the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, the Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia. The operator will have the authority “to take actions in blocking and disconnecting all network connections that affect safety, national revenue, social order, dignity, culture, traditions and customs.”
The decree was introduced in July and is expected to be signed by the end of the year. Internet service providers will be given 12 months to reroute their networks after the decree is signed, according to Nikkei Asian Review.
Technology experts fear the decree will be used to block online criticism of the government. “While the authorities have said this is primarily due to tax reasons and stopping disinformation about Covid-19, it could also be used for more nefarious purposes, i.e. blocking sites which could have content that would be critical of the government,” Marc Einstein, chief analyst at Tokyo-based IT research and consultancy firm ITR told me during a telephone call.
Einstein says the plan shows the influence of China’s “Great Firewall.” “I think what we are going to see is like two spheres of influence in the tech world and I would put Cambodia very much under Chinese side, and therefore I would expect more Chinese style management of the internet in Cambodia than you would see in other countries,” he said.
Coda Story has previously covered how Cambodia’s government has oppressed dissident voices, including opposition leaders and activist monks who have used digital platforms to raise awareness of social and political issues.