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Vietnam increases state surveillance on citizens with new cybersecurity law similar to China

Vietnam Parliament in Hanoi. (Free Use/Flickr)
June 20, 2018

Vietnam legislators recently passed a new cybersecurity law that has quickly drawn criticism.

The law requires global technology companies operating in Vietnam, such as Google and Facebook, to shift consumer data away from cloud-based storage. Instead, the companies are now required to open offices in Vietnam and store the data locally, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Additionally, the law requires social media companies like Facebook to remove offensive content within 24 hours of receiving a request from Vietnam authorities with the Ministry of Information and Communications, or the cybersecurity sector of the Ministry of Public Security.

Vo Trong Viet, the chairman of the Committee on Defense and Security, stated that the law is “extremely necessary to defend the interests of the people and national security,” according to ABC News.

He added that the law will increase technology companies’ operating costs, but it was a necessary measure for “more effective and more viable” efforts in handling cybersecurity violations.

Critics claim the new law inhibits freedom of speech and enables authorities of the Communist state to track down anti-government critics online. The law forces technology companies to turn over user data – including personal information – to authorities.

The U.S. State Department criticized Vietnam for the new law’s restriction of freedom and burdens on technology firms.

Vietnam has steadily tightened its control of internet content, as well as penalties against dissidents.

Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced to 15 years in jail for “spreading propaganda against the state,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

He and five other prisoners received sentences ranging from seven to 12 years for reportedly attempting to overthrow the one-party Communist regime.

More than 100 prisoners are reported to be held for their criticisms against the Vietnam government – some for simply posting negative comments on their personal Facebook accounts.

Last year, Vietnam implemented a cybersecurity task force, “Force 47,” to monitor internet activity.

The force, comprised of approximately 10,000 officials, is tasked with countering “wrongful opinions” about the Vietnam government.

Vietnam’s new cybersecurity law follows in the steps of a similar law enacted in China last year.

That law imposed new rules on technology companies, requiring local data storage and state-approved virtual private networks (VPN).

Industry researcher PwC stated that compliance with the Chinese laws required 25-percent increases in cybersecurity spending, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Approximately 53 million Vietnamese citizens are regular users of social media. Any post perceived as anti-state propaganda could alert government authorities. With the power to access consumer data, authorities will be able to track down offenders faster, and imprison many more.

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi called on the Vietnam government to delay a vote on the legislation, saying that the draft contained “serious obstacles to Vietnam’s cybersecurity and digital innovation future, and may not be consistent with Vietnam’s international trade commitments.”

Vietnamese officials denied that the law interferes with trade commitments.

Although the law will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2019, the country is already seeing repercussions.

Hanoi economist and former government advisor Le Dang Doanh told Bloomberg that the law would “deter foreign investors as it will seriously hurt the business environment in Vietnam.” That appeared to be proven true when Vietnam’s VN Index fell 1.8 percent, for the first time in nine trading days.

The Vietnam Digital Communications Association projected a 1.7-percent reduction in GDP growth, and a 3.1-percent decrease in foreign investment.