Locals’ Internet Access Doesn’t Equal Freedom

An increasing number of Cambodians have access to the Internet due to ownership of smartphones, tablets and the expansion of wireless broadband to rural areas of Cambodia, but access does not mean freedom from restrictions, according to a new report by New York-based Freedom House.

In the report, entitled Freedom on the Net 2013 and released last week, Cambodia placed 34 out of 60 countries surveyed for Internet freedom.

The countries were each evaluated on obstacles to Internet access, limits on content and violations of user rights.

Iceland placed first in the rankings, while Iran was last.

“Despite public claims to support freedom of expression by In­formation Minister Khieu Kanharith and others, officials have taken steps to interfere in Internet access,” the report says, pointing to three websites that have been blocked because of their criticism of the government: Khmerization, KI-Media and Sacrava.

“In early 2010, the government planned to introduce a state-run exchange to control all local ISPs [Internet Service Providers] with the declared aim of strengthening Internet security against pornography, theft and cybercrime.

“This plan, however, has been postponed due to popular opposition—even from inside the government,” Freedom House said.

“A circular ordering cybercafes and telecommunications providers to store user data and provide it to police investigating threats to national security—without judicial oversight—has been in place since February 2012, though it only came to light in August 2012,” the report continues.

New media, such as blogs, social media and online news, are generally unrestricted, Freedom House said. The opposition CNRP focused heavily on reaching out to Cambodia’s growing number of young social media users in their campaign ahead of July’s election. Their tactic was credited with ushering in a huge jump in votes for the opposition.

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