Some Fear Gov’t May Be Tapping Phones

In the current atmosphere of heightened political tension following arrests of high-profile critics of the government, people with sensitive information and ideas to discuss are increasingly scared to use their telephones, fearing the government may be listening.

Cambodian Center for Human Rights Director Kem Sokha, Stu­dent Movement for Democracy Se­cre­tary-General Prum Virak and Khmer Front Party Secretary-Gen­eral Mao Sam Oeun said on Thurs­day they believe their phones are being tapped.

“I never dare to speak about se­cret issues through the telephone,” Kem Sokha said. He added that pri­v­­a­cy of telecommunications is guaranteed by Article 40 of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Government officials denied that phone calls are monitored, claiming that the government lacks the technology to do so, but several security insiders said that people’s par­anoia may be justified.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that phone taps are illegal in Cambodia except un­der the most extreme cases of na­tional security. However, the government does not have the capacity to listen in, he said.

“In the modern world, they have the technology,” but not in Cambo­dia, he said. “This equipment is very expensive.”

He added that although private conversations, such as those be­tween a husband and wife, are protected under individual rights, phone taps on “terrorists” or people who seek to “destroy the interests of the nation” would be justified.

The government can also ap­proach phone companies to locate the whereabouts of individuals by identifying which cellular antenna is picking up their mobile phone signal, which was done successfully in a famous kidnapping case, Khieu Sopheak said.

Government spokesman and In­for­mation Minister Khieu Kan­ha­rith also said the government lacks the technology to decode the digital signals transmitted by cell phones.

However, a phone company official who declined to be named confirmed that cellular calls are difficult to tap, but said phones calls are none­theless monitored as a matter of course by governments around the world.

He added that the Cambodian gov­ernment would need the phone companies’ assistance, but declined to reveal exactly how it would be done or whether the government is currently doing so.

A foreign security expert confirmed that cell phone tapping re­quires the cooperation of phone companies.

Chhay Sinarith, director of the In­ter­ior Ministry’s information de­partment, would neither confirm nor deny the existence of gov­ern­ment phone taps.

“I can’t talk about this because it af­fects national security,” Chhay Sin­arith said. But, he added: “Please ask the world, do they produce this kind of equipment?”


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