In Vietnam a so-called “cybersecurity” bill, which is nothing more than a piece of legislation designed to further censor the internet within the country, was made public in June of last year. The legislation in the country’s unicameral legislative body, known as the National Assembly, is expected to be voted on sometime during the summer legislative session later this year. The country is essentially a one party state, although a small number of independent politicians have been elected to the National Assembly. The Communist Party of Vietnam is seeking to exercise further control over the internet.
The legislation was proposed by the Ministry of Public Security. Under the original language of the cybersecurity bill companies like Google and Facebook would have been required to obtain special licenses to operate within the country as well as open up a representative office and data centers within the country. Any site which the government asks, and any site with over 10,000 users in Vietnam, would be affected by the proposed legislation. “The earlier version required servers to be located in Vietnam, but there are opinions saying servers also handle many other activities so the bill no longer requires servers, only data. Scientists have also discussed and concluded that this is the crux of the problem,” Minister of Public Security To Lam said according to VnExpress.
The bill also appears to call for the government to conduct bulk collection of data from Vietnamese internet users and other data that is created from within the country. “Installing domestic servers is not important, and the important point is we must be able to control all information going in and out. The government has instructed the Ministry of Defense to set up a national firewall and manage it together with the Ministry of Public Security. This way, we will be fully capable of controlling information,” Dinh The Cuong, the head of the Ministry of Defense’s Department of Information Technology said according to VnExpress.
The proposed legislation would violate several international agreements. “The requirement dictated at Article 34 of the draft law violates Vietnam’s WTO and EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) commitments,” the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry stated in a letter opposing the proposed legislation that it sent to the National Defense and Security Committee of the National Assembly. The proposed legislation would also violate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which Vietnam is also a party to.
Tran Dai Quang, the President of Vietnam, who is appointed by the National Assembly, called for an internet crackdown against free speech in an article he wrote that was posted to a government web site in August of last year. In the article the President called for further government control of the internet because of dissidents and activists who used the internet to criticize the Communist Party of Vietnam. The party has called on sites like Google and Facebook to remove content which is critical of the party. Google and Facebook agreed to help the government remove the “toxic” and “illegal” information, with Facebook removing 159 accounts which criticized the government, and Google removing over 5,000 videos from its YouTube platform. Early in February of this year a Vietnamese doctor was sentenced to four years in prison and two years of probation for posting, what the court called propaganda against the state, to Facebook.
Reporters Without Borders considers Vietnam to be an enemy of the internet. In December of last year the government unveiled a new cyber warfare unit made up of 10,000 troops who would police the internet in search of people who hold what the government believes are the “wrong views”. It is clear that regardless of whether or not the new “cybersecurity” bill is enacted, the Communist Party of Vietnam will continue to try to crush internet freedom and freedom of speech and free expression. With the help of VPNs and anonymization services like Tor and I2P, along with decentralized web sites on platforms like ZeroNet and IPFS, Vietnamese people can get around their government’s censorship of the internet and speech.