How could Cambodia’s Draft Cybercrime Law affect Internet users?

What is the purpose of the law?

In May 2012, the government of Cambodia announced that a Draft Cybercrime Law (“the Draft”) was in the works. Calls to see copies of the Draft by human rights organizations were ignored. However, an unofficial copy of the Draft was leaked to the public in April 2014. The supposed purpose of the law is to combat online criminal activities.The Draft criminalizes hacking, the stealing of data and the production of pornography on the Internet.

However, it seems the Draft has an additional hidden agenda. Asked about the need for a Cybercrime Law in May 2012, Press and Quick Reaction Unit spokesman Ek Tha explained to The Phnom Penh Post: “We need to prevent any ill-willed people or bad-mood people from spreading false information, groundless information that could tend to mislead the public and affect national security or our society. We need to control this.” As such, it seems that the underlying purpose of the Draft is controlling information circulating on the Internet.

In fact, there is a lengthy Article in the Draft that regulates the sharing of information on the Internet.  Article 28 makes it a crime to create web content that is “deemed to hinder the sovereignty and integrity of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” to publish information (even if true) that is deemed to incite persons to commit anarchism, and to publish (retweet, repost, or forward an email) material that is “deemed to generate insecurity, instability, and political incohesiveness.” There are several more articles that regulate expression, including a provision that would punish online expression that incites or instigates prejudice based on political views.  This last provision will most likely be used to punish those critical of the actions of the ruling party.

What do the experts say?

Due to these worrying provisions, some organizations dealing with Internet freedom have commented on the Draft. The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), an industry association including members such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, published their comment in August 2013. It warned that the law could be used to convict people innocent of any real misdeed; that many of the crimes defined do not require any criminal intent; and that there were no exceptions for innocent mistakes made. In addition, a number of other organizations including Article 19 and the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, have expressed similar concerns about the criminalization of free speech.

What risk does the Draft represent for Internet, Facebook, and Twitter users?

The risk this law presents to freedom of expression is high, as it gives the ruling authorities a wide range of powers, which can be used at their discretion.  For example, this law would allow the government to put an Internet user in jail for up to three years for, among other things, a Facebook post that is critical of a political party. The Draft also creates a special investigative body, headed by the Prime Minister and political appointees that has the authority to search and seize electronic devices without any judicial warrant or supervision. As a result, many Internet users may stop expressing controversial ideas online or sharing posts which are political in nature due to a fear of harsh punitive repercussions. This effect, called self-censorship, may mean that there is much less information (in words, photos and video) available in Cambodia.

Furthermore, penalties that can be imposed under this law will add to this culture of self-imposed silence. NGOs or businesses whose employees are found to violate the law can be dissolved, even if an employee privately posted on his/her own Facebook page while at work.  Individuals can have their civil rights, which includes running in an election, taken away at the discretion of the ruling authorities, or be banned from other professional activities.

This law is worrisome and, if passed, will be extremely damaging to Cambodian civil society and to the rights of citizens to freedom of expression and information.

What can be done?

Internet users can use Internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to spread concerns over the Draft to raise awareness and call for change in the Draft.

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