The Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit has created a “Cyber War Team” to monitor and collect information from Facebook and other websites in order to “protect the government’s stance and prestige,” according to a proclamation published in the Royal Gazette.
The document, signed by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and published on October 15, says that the Cyber War Team (CWT) will monitor and diffuse information from “websites, Facebook, Twitter, Google-plus, blogs, YouTube and other media outlets.”
“The CWT’s mission, role and obligations are to investigate, collect, analyze and compile all forms of national and international news to use as the basis…to inform the public with the aim to protect the government’s stance and prestige,” the document says.
The new unit will “use strategies…to disseminate, prevent, clarify and maintain every activity and achievement of the government,” it says.
The creation of the CWT comes as NGOs and observers continue to call attention to the country’s draft cybercrime law, which was leaked to the media in April and found to have sections that were directly lifted from the European treaty on cybercrime.
One section that was not copied, however, and which has drawn much criticism, is Article 28, which allows for the punishment of individuals who publish content online that slanders or undermines the integrity of the government or government agencies at any level.
The proposed law also outlines the establishment of a 14-person body known as the National Anti-Cybercrime Committee, which will be chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his deputy, Mr. An, to control the implementation of the law.
It is unclear how this committee, the cybercrime law and the CWT would interface.
Contacted Wednesday, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that he knew nothing about the CWT, and referred questions to Press and Quick Reaction Unit spokesman Tith Sothea, who hung up on reporters.
Phu Leewood, an adviser to the government on information technology matters, also said he had no knowledge of the CWT and questioned its existence and plausibility.
“I don’t think that this is happening, or that the government is capable of making it happen,” he said.
Mr. Leewood—who in April said the cybercrime law appeared to have been drafted by people with scant knowledge of information technology—said Cambodia lags far behind nations that already impose strict online monitoring and regulations.
“In China, they monitor everything. Here, they might have the will, but they don’t have the resources,” he said Wednesday.
The 16-article document in Royal Gazette—an irregularly published record of documents signed by the king—says the CWT, whose Khmer-language name translates as “Working Group for New Social Media,” would have one office that houses six units: observation, initiation, inspection, dissemination and networking, technical, and data compilation.
The observation unit will “inspect and follow up on all forms of news disseminated by other sources,” and “follow up all types of sources and information to decide which subject shall be reported,” the document says.
The dissemination and networking unit will “upload and disseminate created and approved news to other media networks.”
Naly Pilorge, president of local rights group Licadho, which has roundly criticized the draft cybercrime law, said that if the Cyber War Team was created solely to diffuse pro-government information, “there would be no reason for concern.”
“However, the vague guidelines under which this ‘Cyber War Team’ will operate are as worrying as its name suggests,” she said by email.
“In particular, the possibility of monitoring and archiving social media activity, which could be the first step in censoring and punishing dissenting views on the Internet.”