The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications has defended the controversial new Telecommunications Law following a biting legal analysis by rights group Licadho, which says the legislation is a veiled tool to silence critics and potentially criminalize private expression.
The law would potentially give the government unfettered access to telephone and digital communications and broad powers to criminalize any electronic communication it deems to cause “national insecurity.”
Last week, Licadho released an analysis that dismisses government claims that the law is merely intended to regulate the telecommunications industry. It says provisions would allow authorities to arbitrarily monitor private communications and punish those whose speech is deemed to be criminal.
In a “clarification” issued on Tuesday, the ministry reiterated that its intention was to regulate the telecommunications industry, and appeared to hit back at Licadho, although it did not name the organization.
“The [ministry] regrets that the interpretation is contrary to the truth regarding the meaning of the Law on Telecommunications raised by an NGO,” the statement said, adding that the analysis was done “without discussion and understanding in advance with the ministry.”
“The ministry would like to flatly dismiss the comments that the Law on Telecommunications badly affects freedom of expression and privacy in the Kingdom of Cambodia,” it added.
Representatives of Licadho could not be reached on Tuesday.
Licadho’s analysis acknowledges the law’s stated purpose, but says it fails to contain any “reference to the right to freedom of expression or its protection, as guaranteed by the constitution and international law, nor to the right to privacy of correspondence by means of telecommunications which is expressly protected under the Constitution.”
“[It] appears to create a power to secretly eavesdrop without any public accountability or safeguards to protect individuals’ right to privacy,” it says.
“This means that any individual holding a phone conversation, sending a text message, email or communicating via social media might secretly be under observation at any point in time without their knowledge,” it continues.
“Any private speech via telecommunications can no longer be considered truly private,” the analysis concludes.