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26 Sep 2022

Rina Chandran, Thomson Reuters Foundation (UK),

Cambodia and Myanmar: China's Digital Silk Road raises fear of surveillance targeting activists and union leaders

Photo: Canva

"Activists fear rising surveillance from Asia's Digital Silk Road" 19 September 2022

* China drives adoption of surveillance tech globally

* State AI-based systems target activists, protesters

* Authorities say technology needed for security purposes

PHNOM PENH, Sept 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The drones were hard to avoid: they buzzed low over the crowd of protesters holding banners and shouting slogans outside the NagaWorld casino in the Cambodian city of Phnom Penh, then hovered above each of the speakers as they called for justice.

As hundreds of workers went on strike outside the glass and chrome towers of the firm’s hotel and casino complex, demanding the reinstatement of nearly 400 employees who were laid off last year, armed riot police and surveillance cameras kept watch. [...]

China has installed more than 1,000 CCTV cameras in Phnom Penh as part of a new nationwide surveillance system, according to local media reports.

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan denied that the technologies are used to target activists and union leaders.

“The CCTVs and other surveillance infrastructure are for security purposes, to fight crime, and traffic violations and other illegal actions,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. [...]


While authorities justify surveillance on security grounds, human rights groups have raised concerns about privacy violations and the potential for profiling and discrimination, with the technologies often deployed without public consultation, and in the absence of strong data protection laws. [...]

“These tools offer new possibilities for tracking and intimidating dissenters, monitoring political opponents, and preempting challenges to the government,” said Steven Feldstein, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), a think-tank based in Washington, D.C. [...]