Photo by Robert Pastryk / PixabayNews

Vietnam’s cybersecurity law raises concern over loss of freedom of speech

Photo by Robert Pastryk / Pixabay

Right after Vietnam passed its cybersecurity law, human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) issued a statement calling it “a devastating blow for freedom of expression.” Under the law, service providers like Google and Facebook are required to store user data — and make them available to the government when necessary.

Of Vietnam’s 93 million population, 73 million are online while 53 million maintain Facebook accounts.

Aside from having virtually content control, the country’s Ministry of Information and Communication may also request the service providers to take down offensive content within 24 hours. The government has set up its own cybersecurity task force, which is under the Ministry of Public Security.

Under the law, the tech companies are now obliged to set up local offices in the country if they want to continue their operations. The Vietnamese government justified the need for local offices saying that it would allow seamless coordination among concerned parties should a threat to cybersecurity arise.

Sweeping powers

“This decision has potentially devastating consequences for freedom of expression in Viet Nam. In the country’s deeply repressive climate, the online space was a relative refuge where people could go to share ideas and opinions with less fear of censure by the authorities,” said Clare Algar, AI’s director of Global Operations. “With the sweeping powers it grants the government to monitor online activity, this vote means there is now no safe place left in Viet Nam for people to speak freely.

“This law can only work if tech companies cooperate with government demands to hand over private data. These companies must not be party to human rights abuses, and we urge them to use the considerable power they have at their disposal to challenge Viet Nam’s government on this regressive legislation.”

When the chair of the Committee on Defense and Security Vo Trong Viet addressed the government assembly prior to the passage of the legislation, he said the law could help defend the “interests of the people and national security.”

The law is also feared to prevent citizens from organizing online against the state.

AI’s statement also states that it had reached out to CEOs of Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and even Samsung “outlining its concerns on the law and urging the companies to exert pressure on Vietnam’s government.”