The new cyber security law – a double edged sword – can be used to combat cybercrime, it can also be used to tackle online dissent.
On Tuesday, in a move that further consolidates the government’s powers over internet content in Vietnam, the country’s lawmakers approved a cybersecurity law that tightens control of the internet in the country, raising fears of a further crackdown on dissent.
According to the tenets of the cyber law, tech companies operating in the country, including Facebook and Google, will have to now store “important” personal data of Vietnamese users on servers in Vietnam. This will necessary mean that they will have to open offices in the country.
Thousands of demonstrators across several Vietnamese cities and provinces marched against a plan to create economic zones for foreign investment, fueling anti-Chinese sentiments. Demonstrators also derided the cyber security bill which experts say will cause economic harm to the country and stifle online dissent.
Tuesday’s vote on the cyber security bill was held midst tight security: police was seen manning barricades outside the legislature in Hanoi.
It is not yet clear when the new law will go into effect.
Amnesty International was quick to deride the new law saying it amounts to giving a “devastating blow” to the freedom of expression of the country’s citizens. The move will force tech companies to hand over personal data to authorities who can then censor an individual’s 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,” said Clare Algar, Amnesty’s director of global operations, in a statement.
The new law requires social media companies to remove offending content from their platforms within 1 day of receiving a request from the country’s authorities.
According to Vo Trong Viet, the head of Vietnam’s defense and security committee that drafted the law, the requirement for tech companies to open offices in the country and store user data locally was not only feasible but is crucial for fighting cyber crime and is in line with international rules.
“Placing a data center in Vietnam increases costs for businesses but is a necessary requirement to meet the cybersecurity need of the country,” said Vo Trong Viet to lawmakers.
According to a 2018 global digital report prepared by social media management firm Hootsuite and media consulting firm, We Are Social, around 55 million Vietnamese are regular users of social media.
Vietnam ranked 7th among active Facebook-using countries, reads the report while its economic hub, Ho Chi Minh City, was in the top 10 among cities with active Facebook users.
According to the Vietnam Digital Communication Association, the requirements in the new cyber security law could add as a drag to Vietnam’s GDP speed. As per its forecast, the new law could see Vietnam’s GDP drop by 1.7% and wipe off 3.1% of foreign investment, something that is crucial to its economy.