Jessica Goodfellow
Oct 13, 2020

Cambodia's draft cybercrime law raises free speech alarm

Vague language used in the draft of a proposed cybercrime law could allow it to be used as a tool to limit free speech, according to several rights organisations.

Phnom Penh city, Cambodia (Shutterstock)
Phnom Penh city, Cambodia (Shutterstock)

A draft of a cybercrime law being drawn up in Cambodia has raised concern from rights groups over its potential to limit freedom of expression in the country, according to an investigation by VOA Khmer.

The Cambodian news outlet obtained an August draft of the cybercrime law, the creation of which was first proposed 10 years ago.

Under a section of the draft, authorities would be permitted to fine or imprison people who "knowingly or intentionally" make false statements online that could be detrimental to "public safety", "national security" and "friendly relations of Cambodia and other countries."

If convicted, a person could face a maximum of three years in prison and up to $2,500 in fines, according to the draft law.

Another article allows authorities to punish citizens for causing "interruptions, fear, threats, abuses, intimidation" through the use of computers. Maximum imprisonment under this article is six months, the draft says.

The draft law requires service providers to "preserve traffic data for at least 180 days" in order to facilitate requests for information from authorities. Any legal person storing data on behalf of others or providing users the possibility of communicating through telecommunications systems is considered to be a service provider, it states.

The draft law contains provisions on other cybercrimes, such as identity theft, computer-related forgery and theft, intellectual property infractions and crimes related to pornography.

According to VOA's report, the draft has not yet been approved by government.

Several organisations that were sent the draft law by VOA Khmer expressed concern over its vagueness, which could allow it to be used as a tool to limit free speech. Similar concerns have been raised about cybercrime laws in markets like Pakistan and Singapore.

Chak Sopheap, executive director at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the use of terms such as "public order" and "security" were vague and open to interpretation by authorities.

The sharing of fake news carries a potential prison sentence, but without a universally agreed definition for fake news, this can be open to interpretation, said Soeung Saroeun, executive director at the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia.

Requiring service providers to store user data for at least 180 days also raised privacy concerns.

VOA Khmer is an affiliate of Voice of America, a US government-funded international news and broadcast network. In many of Asia-Pacific's smaller regions, VOA affiliates are one of the most popular sources of news on social media. In Cambodia, VOA Khmer is the second most-popular Facebook page, behind that of Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen, according to Socialbakers data.

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