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Cambodia cans critics of its snoopy Internet Gateway, says every nation has one

Government says it’s just collecting tax, United Nations points to data harvesting and chilling effects on free speech

Cambodia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has issued a clarification about the role of the "National Internet Gateway" that will commence operations tomorrow, stating that descriptions of it as an instrument of pervasive surveillance are "unfounded."

As reported yesterday in The Register, human rights organisations, big tech, and academics believe the Gateway is all about surveillance, in the service of suppressing political opposition, and perhaps with some crony capitalism thrown in for good measure.

However, a Ministry spokesperson insists the Gateway is actually an instrument to "strengthen national security and tax collection as well as to maintain social order and protect national culture."

The clarification adds that Cambodia's government conducted "an extensive study on infrastructure models from different countries around the world and found that most countries have internet gateways and respective regulations."

That claim is contestible. While most nations regulate the internet in one way or another, very few funnel all traffic through a government-operated bottleneck as Cambodia proposes – China is the most prominent practitioner of such systems. As for Cambodia's claim that such a gateway is needed for tax collection, many nations around the world tax online transactions, or have imposed digital services taxes, without a gateway.

The document goes on to say the Gateway will help to stop the cybercrime of "illegal use of cross-border network connections" and prevent online scams.

But the United Nations recently stated that the Gateway "permits the Cambodian Government to monitor internet activity, intercept and censor digital communications, and collect, retain and share personal data of users."

The UN further opined that the Gateway will have "a serious negative impact on internet freedom, human rights defenders and civil society in the country, further shrinking the already-restrictive civic space in Cambodia."

That's rather broader than improved tax collection. The Gateway is scheduled to go into effect tomorrow, February 16. ®

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