Strict new cybersecurity laws that could force tech firms to censor content will come into effect in Vietnam DESPITE pleas from Google and Facebook
- Vietnam is preparing to strictly enforce a new cybersecurity law passed in June
- Critics say measure undermines economic development and digital innovation
- Facebook and Google must ultimately comply with law or pull out of the country
Vietnam is preparing to strictly enforce a new cybersecurity law requiring global technology companies to set up local offices and store data in the country.
That’s despite pleas from Facebook, Google and other firms, a government document has revealed.
Vietnamese lawmakers approved the new law in June, overriding strong objections from the business community, rights groups and Western governments.
This includes the United States, who said the measure would undermine economic development, digital innovation and further stifle political dissent.
Google, Facebook and other big technology firms had hoped a draft bill on how the law should be implemented would soften provisions they find most objectionable.
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Vietnam is preparing to strictly enforce a new cybersecurity law requiring global technology companies to set up local offices and store data in the country. Critics say the controversial measure undermines economic development and further stifles political dissent (stock)
WHAT EXACTLY DOES THE NEW LAW MEAN?
The cyber law, which takes effect on 1 January, 2019, requires Facebook, Google and other global technology firms to store locally ‘important’ personal data on users in Vietnam and open offices there.
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.
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.
The document, seen by Reuters, indicates those hopes are unlikely to materialise, potentially setting up a showdown over whether the companies will ultimately comply with the law or pull out of the country.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry, which handles foreign media requests for comments from the government, did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Facebook declined to comment.
A Google spokesman had no immediate comment.
Despite sweeping economic reforms and increasing openness to social change, Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate political dissent.
The new draft decree requires companies providing a range of services, including email, social media, video, messaging, banking and e-commerce, to set up offices in Vietnam if they collect, analyse or process personal user data.
The companies would also be required to store a wide range of user data, ranging from financial records and biometric data to information on peoples’ ethnicity and political views, or strengths and interests inside Vietnam’s border.
Facebook and Google, both of which are widely used in the country, do not have local offices or local data storage facilities and have pushed back on the localisation requirements.
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Mark Zuckerberg’s social networking company has pleaded with Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, which retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate political dissent (stock)
The companies have been more muted on other parts of the law that bolster the government’s online policing powers, though company officials have privately expressed concerns that the new law would make it easier for the authorities to seize customer data and expose local employees to arrest.
A number of other countries in Asia and elsewhere are also pursuing data localisation laws as they seek greater control over the internet.
Vietnam offers something of a case study in the conflicting pressures the likes of Facebook and Google confront when operating in countries with repressive governments.
It also shows how authoritarian regimes try to walk a line in controlling online information and suppressing political activism without crippling the digital economy.
Critics fear the new law will both dampen the burgeoning internet economy and intensify a crackdown on online dissent.
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
Vietnam has been increasingly aggressive in prosecuting dissidents for anti-government Facebook posts, and activists have called on the company to do more to resist the government’s censorship.
The draft decree also gives the Vietnamese police’s cybersecurity and high-tech crime unit authority to request data for investigation or to handle law violations on cyberspace or for national security protection.
The head of the National Assembly’s defense and security committee, Vo Trong Viet, said in June that storing data inside Vietnam was feasible, crucial to fighting cyber crime and in line with international rules.
He has said placing data centres in Vietnam, which the companies say would increase costs and weaken security, is necessary to meet the cybersecurity needs of the country.
The draft decree is expected to be published within days to seek public opinion. Once it is approved by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the law will go into effect on January 1 next year, though the provisions on local offices and data localisation would not go into effect for another year.
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