In a country with few computers, authorities want to limit children’s access to internet cafes

Imagine for a moment you have to check in at the internet cafés as you do in a hotel:

Welcome sir to the Phnom Penh Internet Café, the only one in town out of the reach of any school, how may I help you?

-Yes, thank you, I need a PC please.

-Yes, sir, just I need your passport or ID. Which sites are you going to visit and what are you going to say to whom and how?

Imagine also a city without internet cafés. You can imagine then only two types of cities: a very modern one with a very low level of digital gap where every inhabitant has Internet access or a very primitive place just without Internet.

Instead of seeing internet cafes as an opportunity to fight the digital gap, some authorities in Phnom Penh see them as a threat to national security and just a danger of pornography and video-games’ addiction. The official solution seems even more amazing: to ban internet cafes from a perimeter of 500 meters from any school in the capital. Enforcing such regulation will clean Phnom Penh out of internet cafes, as it can be concluded from the map projection of Cambodian human rights’ defender Licadho.

On December 15 in Phnom Penh internet cafes got a circular signed by the Ministry of Telecommunications establishing some rules of control to these public commercial services. The persons writing it seemed to compare internet cafes to brothels and they do not distinguish internet cafes from video arcades. Of course, an internet cafe in Cambodia can become just an arcade, but it is where a sound legislation comes to operate.

LICADHO’s Director Naly Pilorge said by email to Asian Correspondent about the implication of this new norm:

We don’t know the number of Internet cafes potentially affected by the circular. We are concerned, however, that this circular is a preview of what is to come when the government enacts the so-called “Cybercrime law,” which has been rumored for a while – though not made public by the government. All of the actual crimes that the circular purports to address are already illegal. The circular’s sole purpose seems to be to create unjustifiable obstacles to Internet access. We believe this is a transparent attempt to block part of the population’s access to independent sources of information through news sites and social media.

Nobody will oppose to rule video arcades far from the schools, but to compare an internet cafe with a video arcade isn’t just correct. In a country where very few children and youth enjoy the benefits of the Internet and  few schools have a computer room, the order to banish public PCs from the schools’ areas is astonishing and senseless.

A more sound rule could work to integrate those internet cafes to the schools’ educational systems. They are by themselves public computer rooms and cheap digital libraries where students can find the windows to science, technology and culture.

Teachers can be trained to interact with local internet cafes and their owners can be included in the school master plan to guarantee the child and youth safety we need on the internet cafes to prevent video-game addictions, pornography and online criminality in a pedagogic way.