Vietnam’s cyber-security law takes effect amid criticism

Freedom advocates say the new cybersecurity law mimics China's repressive censorship of the Internet. PHOTO: AFP

HANOI • A law requiring Internet companies in Vietnam to remove content that the communist authorities deem to be against the state came into effect yesterday, in a move critics called "a totalitarian model of information control".

The new cyber-security law has received sharp criticism from the United States, the European Union and Internet freedom advocates who say it mimics China's repressive censorship of the Internet.

The legislation requires Internet companies to remove content the government regards as "toxic".

Tech giants such as Facebook and Google will also have to hand over user data if asked by the government, and open representative offices in Vietnam.

The communist country's powerful Ministry of Public Security (MPS) published a draft decree on how the law may be implemented in November, giving companies which offer Internet service in Vietnam up to 12 months to comply.

MPS has also said that the Bill was aimed at staving off cyber attacks - weeding out "hostile and reactionary forces" using the Internet to stir up violence and dissent, according to a transcript of a question-and-answer session with lawmakers in October.

In response to the law, which was approved by Vietnam's rubberstamp Parliament in June, Facebook said it was committed to protecting the rights of its users and enabling people to express themselves freely and safely.

"We will remove content that violates (Facebook's) standards when we are made aware of it," Facebook said in a statement, adding that the social media giant has a clear process to manage requests from governments around the world.

Hanoi has said Google is taking steps to open up an office in Vietnam to comply with the new law.

The law also bans Internet users in Vietnam from spreading information deemed to be anti-state or anti-government, or use the Internet to distort history and "post false information that could cause damage to socio-economic activities".

Critics say online freedom in Vietnam is shrinking under a hardline administration that has been in charge since 2016.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the communist authorities to revise the law and postpone its implementation.

"This law is designed to further enable the Ministry of Public Security's pervasive surveillance to spot critics, and to deepen the Communist Party's monopoly on power," said Mr Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of HRW.

The law comes into force a week after the Vietnam Journalists Association announced a new code of conduct on the use of social media by its members, forbidding reporters to post news, pictures and comments that "run counter to" the state.

Vietnam wants to build a reputation as a South-east Asian hub for financial technology.

Yet critics warn the new Internet law - particularly the data-sharing element - will make start-ups think twice about relocating to the country.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2019, with the headline Vietnam’s cyber-security law takes effect amid criticism. Subscribe