Cambodia Implements Full Internet Surveillance Through Single National Data Gateway
(by Arno Maierbrugger | Investvine) – Cambodia’s new Chinese-style National Internet Gateway comes online on February 16 and will funnel all web traffic to, from and within the country through a state-controlled data point, exposing it to comprehensive government surveillance.
The move that is feared to have a strong negative impact not only on freedom of speech, but also on media and businesses in the country.
All Internet service providers in the country are required to route their traffic through the gateway. Revocation of operating licenses or the freezing of bank accounts are among penalties for non-compliance. Additionally, all incoming traffic to Cambodia will be subject to censorship.
In the name of “social order, safety and traditions…”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan insisted the new Internet gateway was needed to “crack down on cyber-crime, maintain national security and collect revenue.”
All websites that “adversely affect national revenue, safety, social order, morality, culture, traditions and customs” would be blocked, he said, adding that “Cambodians need to understand that freedom of expression comes with responsibilities” and that “insulting or manipulating information can affect national security or individuals’ reputations.”
However, critics of the “Great Firewall” say that it is not about such censorship, but about control. A Human Rights Watch analysis of the gateway suggests it would “allow the government to monitor all Internet activities and grant the authorities broad powers to block and disconnect Internet connections.”
The surveillance gateway comes a year before Cambodia’s general elections in 2023 with a view on how particularly social media and other Internet channels have been effective in expressing and organising opposition, most recently in Thailand and Myanmar.
Setback for nascent digital economy
Jeff Paine, managing director of the Asia Internet Coalition, a regional lobbying group, said the gateway “will restrict Cambodians’ ability to access a free and open Internet and greatly harm the country’s nascent digital economy.”
Apart from an adverse impact on companies and digital entrepreneurship, the gateway will also not help attracting skilled expats and digital nomads to the country, others say.
Virtual private networks gain sudden popularity
Ahead of the implementation of the new Internet gateway, many Cambodians have been turning to virtual private networks (VPNs) which allow to bypass online censorship by hiding a user’s Internet Protocol address and physical location, while at the same time encrypting Internet traffic.
So far, there were no reports of Cambodian authorities cracking down on VPN use in the country.