Amid ramped-up efforts by the government to monitor and control the Internet, and plans to install surveillance equipment on the networks of mobile phone and Internet providers, the Council of Ministers has “scrapped” a controversial draft cybercrime law for the time being.
“The draft has been scrapped already,” Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Thursday.
Mr. Siphan said the law, which rights groups worry would be a means to silence online dissent, was shelved because “it is not a priority.”
“There used to be cooperation between the Interior Ministry and Telecommunications Ministry, but [now] it is not a priority and is in a dormant situation,” he said, adding that he was unaware of any plans to resume the drafting process.
Posts and Telecommunications Minister Prak Sokhon said Thursday that his ministry’s work on the draft law stopped sometime last year.
“I just asked my colleagues where the draft law is, because no one knows who is in charge of the draft. It seems now it is in the Ministry of Interior,” Mr. Sokhon said.
“We don’t know what to do with it now,” he added. “We have no instructions.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said his ministry was also no longer working on the cybercrime law.
“I know nothing about it,” he said.
The government’s decision to set aside the draft cybercrime law, however, comes as it is quickly ramping up efforts to control the Internet.
A government directive dated October 7 ordered 12 mobile and Internet providers in the country to allow Interior Ministry officials to inspect their networks, billing records and data logs.
On Wednesday, a senior official said the ministry planned to install surveillance equipment on those networks, but was waiting for the budget and approval from the “upper level.”
Also in October, a proclamation signed by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An announced the creation of a “Cyber War Team,” whose mission is to monitor social media websites in order to “protect the government’s stance and prestige.”
But despite the government’s decision to put the cybercrime law on hold, Chheang Vun, a senior CPP lawmaker and National Assembly spokesman, on Thursday urged the ministries of interior and telecommunications to resume drafting the legislation.
“I am pushing to create the cybercrime law…. The cybercrime law is very important,” Mr. Vun said during a press briefing at the parliament building.
Mr. Vun noted that most countries in the region have already passed similar laws, and said Cambodia should follow suit.
“The Interior Ministry has changed their structure and they put [the cybercrime law] aside for a while,” he said. “Now, I am pushing to review it again because outside [Cambodia], they are demanding it.”
“There are many crimes involving the Internet,” Mr. Vun added. “If we don’t have the law to control it, we will die in the future.”
Mr. Vun named immediate threats as defamation, pornography, online gambling and “extortion through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.”
When the draft cybercrime law was leaked online in April, human rights groups demurred, calling it a blatant breach of human rights that was designed to stifle free speech and criticism of the government.
“If the draft law were adopted in its current version—the version leaked in April 2014—it would provide the government with legal justifications for limiting the use of social media and would seriously affect freedom of expression on the internet,” Sorn Ramana, project coordinator for the Freedom of Expression Project at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said in an email Thursday.
Phu Leewood, an adviser to the government on information technology issues, said he could only guess as to what prompted the government to decide to give up on the cybercrime law.
“I think that the government has evolved,” he said.