The United States has invited senior Cambodian officials to visit the country to learn about cybercrime from U.S. experts.
Numerous countries and non-governmental organizations have expressed concern in recent years over the drafting of a Cambodian cybercrime law, which critics say could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent as Cambodians increasingly turn to social media websites such as Facebook to share their political opinions.
Kan Channmeta, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, said he estimated about 7 million Cambodians now regularly use the internet – almost half the population.
U.S. Ambassador William Heidt said in early June that his country wanted to work with the Cambodian government to ensure Cambodians enjoyed freedom to express themselves online, proposing the training be conducted.
“Cybercrime is a real problem in the United States and Cambodia as well, so we are working with Cambodia. We offer to bring a team of officials from various ministries to come to the United States to see how our cyber law works. How the United States enforces and prosecutes cybercrime,” he said.
“We’ll make sure that your Internet remains a place for free expression as well.” he added.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than 30 years, is increasingly using Facebook as a medium to both direct policy and to gauge popular opinion, with observers suggesting the move is a strategic bid to win over young voters from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party ahead of the next general election in 2018.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said while the government welcomed the training not everything that applied in the U.S. would work in Cambodia.
“I support it as it is a way of sharing. I am interested in the U.S. standard regarding their culture of strengthening their national security and the knowledge of their nation,” he said, adding that the U.S cybercrime law will be used as reference point for Cambodia to redraft its own cybercrime law.
“We take [the law] as a reference since though we are not there yet, we are prepared for the coming years when our economy is booming, and standards of living are better and the law is respected. So we want to collect elements to put into drafting of the cybercrime law,” he said.
Siphan suggested the government may come across some barriers to implementing anti-cybercrime measures, referencing the dispute between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Apple, which centers around the extent to which courts can compel technology manufacturers to unlock cellphones that are encrypted.
Gen. Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the level of knowledge among the Cambodian authorities on how to tackle cybercrime remained low.
“Technology advances very quickly. Some countries will not catch up with the developed countries. The knowledge [on cybercrime] is sometimes beyond our capacity. As you may know we are not a country that produces computers or programmers,” he said.
“Most of the programs [we use] are from [the U.S.], so I am very happy that our experts could absorb more advanced technology in developed countries, particularly the U.S.”
He added that the government was perturbed by Khmer-Americans who used Facebook as a platform to hurl insults at Hun Sen and other government leaders.
“I want them to stop and if such cases happen, I would like the U.S. officials to cooperate, at least to let them know that though they are American, they have to respect Cambodian traditions,” he said.