The Internet, however, has been more difficult to pin down. Stifling dissent within a country only goes so far when dissent from outside is still in reach — and right now, thanks to services such as Google and Facebook, as well as myriad news and other sites, it is. The sub-decree signed last week by Hun Sen, which requires all traffic to be routed through a regulatory body, seeks to solve this “problem” by funneling beyond-borders content through a hub where the government controls the switches. That makes it easier to kill all international access at once in a moment of unrest. It also makes it easier to cut off certain sites, or to use cutoffs as a cudgel to force those sites into doing the regime’s bidding. Facebook, for instance, may be urged to crack down on expression or to host data locally. The regulatory body in question is also tasked with monitoring online activity, in a blow against privacy.
Cambodia’s plan is less sophisticated than patron state China’s so-called Great Firewall. Yet it is still a threat not only to one nation but also to the entire globe. China wishes to establish a freedom-crushing model of cyber-sovereignty by which every country sets its own rules for a Web that serves those in power, rather than the people, without any regard for civil liberties or due process of law. The United States and its allies presumably want the opposite. They should do something about it, in Cambodia, where they and the companies at risk can put pressure on Hun Sen to reverse the order, and everywhere else. A free Internet may be lost if democracies don’t band together to fight for it.