Viet­nam cy­ber law set for tough en­force­ment

Business World - - The World -

HANOI — Viet­nam is pre­par­ing to strictly en­force a new cy­ber­se­cu­rity law re­quir­ing global tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies to set up lo­cal of­fices and store data lo­cally de­spite pleas from Face­book, Google and other firms, a gov­ern­ment doc­u­ment showed.

Viet­namese law­mak­ers ap­proved the new law in June over­rid­ing strong ob­jec­tions from the busi­ness com­mu­nity, rights groups and West­ern gov­ern­ments in­clud­ing the United States, who said the mea­sure would un­der­mine eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion and fur­ther sti­fle po­lit­i­cal dis­sent.

Al­pha­bet, Inc.’s Google, Face­book and other big tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies had hoped a draft de­cree on how the law would be im­ple­mented would soften pro­vi­sions they find most ob­jec­tion­able.

But the doc­u­ment seen by Reuters in­di­cates those hopes are un­likely to ma­te­ri­al­ize, 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, while 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 e-mail, so­cial me­dia, video, mes­sag­ing, bank­ing and e-com­merce, to set up of­fices in Viet­nam if they col­lect, an­a­lyze 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 lo­cal­iza­tion re­quire­ments.

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 lo­cal­iza­tion laws as they seek greater con­trol over the In­ter­net.

Viet­nam of­fers 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.

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 cen­ters 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 Jan. 1 next year, though the pro­vi­sions on lo­cal of­fices and data lo­cal­iza­tion would not go into ef­fect for an­other year. —

REUTERS

A MAN uses an iPad de­vice in a cof­fee shop in Hanoi in this May 18 photo.

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