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Vietnam’s cyber-security rules give the government powers over user data

Image credit: DT

Vietnam’s National Assembly has introduced new cyber-security laws which will require the likes of Google and Facebook to store the data of Vietnamese users in local offices.

The move has been criticised by free-speech advocates, who say the regulations could also have a detrimental effect on the local economy.

Hanoi-based economist Le Dang Doanh who has advised the government in the past said: “The cyber-security law is a big backward step for Vietnam. It will restrict people’s freedom of speech and it will deter foreign investors, as it will seriously hurt the business environment in Vietnam.”

While Vietnam doesn’t completely block the likes of Facebook and Google - unlike its neighbour China - the move sees the government try to tighten its control over the internet and global tech companies operating in the country.

The cyber law, which takes effect on 1 January 2019, requires global technology firms to store locally “important” personal data on users in Vietnam and open offices there.

Local protesters have derided the bill and see it as an attempt to stifle online dissent. Since 2016, Vietnam has cracked down on bloggers who are critical of the government, even handing down jail sentences to some.

Tuesday’s vote was held as police manned barricades outside the legislature in the capital Hanoi. The cyber law was approved by 91 per cent of attending legislators.

Human rights group Amnesty International said the law was a “devastating blow” for freedom of expression, allowing the state to force tech companies to hand over potentially vast amounts of data, including personal information, and censor users’ posts.

“With the sweeping powers it grants the government to monitor online activity, this vote means there is now no safe place left in Vietnam for people to speak freely,” Clare Algar, Amnesty’s director of global operations, said in a statement.

Under the law, social media companies in Vietnam are required to remove offending content from their platforms within one day of receiving a request from the authorities.

The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), an industry group that was leading efforts to soften the proposed legislation, said the law would hinder Vietnam’s ambitions for GDP and job growth in developing a digital economy.

“These provisions will result in severe limitations on Vietnam’s digital economy, dampening the foreign investment climate and hurting opportunities for local businesses and SMEs to flourish inside and beyond Vietnam,” said AIC Managing Director Jeff Paine.

Vo Trong Viet, head of the defence and security committee that drafted the law, said the requirement to store data inside Vietnam was feasible, crucial to fighting cyber crime and in line with international rules.

“Placing a data centre in Vietnam increases costs for businesses but is a necessary requirement to meet the cyber-security need of the country,” he told legislators.

The United States and Canada had urged Vietnam to delay the vote and review the law to ensure it met global standards and addressed concerns that it may hurt digital innovation in Vietnam, where its 94 million people are a target for local small businesses as well as global consumer brands.

Vietnam was reportedly targeted by Chinese hackers last year amid a period of tension between the two countries. 

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