Cambodian authorities issued a directive Monday banning drones from the airspace of the nation’s capital city without prior approval, citing privacy and security concerns.
“To ensure the respect for the rights of people and to maintain security, safety and public order, the Phnom Penh municipality decides to ban camera-equipped drones from flying over Phnom Penh’s airspace from now on,” the directive read.
The move comes just days after a German national flew a camera-equipped drone over the country’s royal palace and reportedly alarmed the queen who was in the courtyard. Michael Altenhenne, a German tourist and freelance journalist, was detained and interrogated over the weekend before being freed and departing to Thailand on Sunday.
But municipal spokesman Long Dimanche also cited other reasons for the ban beyond that specific incident, including concerns that drones are being used to take pictures and videos of people without permission and could be employed by terrorists to attack the government. Some have also suggested that the regulation would help the government control such technologies and deny them to their opponents for uses that could undermine authority such as reporting on civil unrest.
“The drone takes photos from the sky while the resident is taking a bath or eating in private. How do you think they will feel?” the Phnom Penh Post quoted Dimanche as saying. “We do not know their intention. It will affect the right to privacy, and the top ministries and national offices will fear potential terrorism.”
But Dimanche reportedly stressed that while the ban would apply to both private and commercial use of drones, it was a regulation rather than an outright prohibition, and that the sale and purchase of drone technology would be unaffected.
While other countries also do require approval for the commercial use of drones, The Cambodia Daily points out that Cambodia’s ban offers no guidelines or criteria for how it would approve flights. In addition to the lack of specificity, some have also criticized the approach as too heavy-handed, as the government could have looked at more targeted measures such as instituting no-fly zones for drones in certain areas like the palace.
In an exclusive interview with The Post, Altenhenne also expressed his dismay at the government’s response.
“I think there has to be a regulation as all these technologies appear,” he said. “But while we discuss and debate them in the Western world, you can ban them easily in countries like Cambodia.”