Cyber security law restrictions worry Vietnamese legislators

By Bao Ha   May 29, 2018 | 04:00 am PT
Cyber security law restrictions worry Vietnamese legislators
More than half of Vietnamese people are online, and a proposed law on cyber security has raised concerns about impacts on the internet environment.
A senior lawmaker says the law could curb personal rights, but is necessary for a bigger cause.

The National Assembly, Vietnam’s premier legislative body, is set to pass a law on cyber security during its ongoing summer session, but many members of the assembly have serious misgivings about its provisions.

Without greater clarity and specific terms, the law could be abused, some of them feel.

Some provisions of the bill under discussion are aimed at giving the government greater control over foreign digital giants like Google and Facebook, as well as local users posting anti-government propaganda, information that ignites violence and disturbs public security, or defamatory and slandering content.

But these are nebulous and susceptible to misuse, some MPs worry.

Nguyen Lan Hieu, a legislator who is a senior doctor, said it was hard to decide what is right or wrong in reality. “The line is very blurred,” he said during discussions on Tuesday. He said the law should specify the agency responsible for deciding whether a piece of information violates the nation’s laws, noting that Indonesia has given this job to the courts.

The law, proposed by the Ministry of Public Security, also suggests that the internet giants have to provide users’ information to units under the ministry on request.

This is not enough, Hieu said. He said the law should state specific situations when the users’ information should be surrendered. Also, users’ information should be categorized, because personal health and financial data should be protected, he added.

Besides, “this law can bring many changes to Vietnam’s investment and business environment, to an economy which is seeing strong integration. So we have to be extremely careful,” Hieu said.

On the requirement that firms like Google and Facebook have to store local users’ information in Vietnam and open representative offices, some legislators expressed concerns that it could backfire and damage Vietnam’s internet environment.

Legislator Pham Thi Thanh Thuy from the central province of Thanh Hoa said the requirements were “impractical” and “unsuitable” as they go against Vietnam’s integration commitments.

If the providers do not agree to the terms, they might not be allowed to provide services in Vietnam, which will largely undermine information access in Vietnam, she said. More than half of Vietnam’s population regularly use services provided by the two internet giants.

Initially, the bill had a provision requiring foreign companies to install servers in Vietnam, but similar arguments about integration and the need for an open environment forced the ministry to scrap it in January.

Police officials seem determined to enforce the “office” requirement though.

Colonel Nguyen Huu Cau, chief police officer of the central province of Nghe An, said at the meeting on Tuesday that an internet business is just like any other business and setting up an office for a local market is “the principle” and has been a rule in many countries.

Eighteen countries to be exact, said Bui Mau Quan, deputy head of the cyber security unit at the Ministry of Public Security, naming Canada, China, Germany, France, Russia and the U.S.

Tuesday’s discussions will be the last chance for Vietnamese legislators to give their opinions on the proposed law, before it is passed on June 12.

The discussions are happening even as Vietnam takes strong action to filter content on Facebook and Google.

Vietnam’s information authorities said last December that Facebook, the world’s biggest social network and the most popular in Vietnam, acted upon a request by Vietnamese authorities to remove 159 anti-government accounts, while Google also removed around 4,500 videos containing "bad" or "toxic" content from YouTube.

Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam told the National Assembly last November that Vietnam encourages the development of social media, but “it has to go hand in hand with political stability, and must not distort, defame, divide or disseminate content that goes against the policies of the Party and the State, or Vietnamese culture.”

Nguyen Thanh Hong, member of the National Defense and Security Committee at the National Assembly, which is in charge of reviewing the cyber security law, conceded in a recent interview with VnExpress that the new law would affect individuals’ rights, but this was necessary for the bigger cause.

He said cyber security was a complicated matter globally, and it was necessary to take actions to enhance national security.

Hong also said the government has evaluated the impacts of the law.

“It won’t be right to say that the law will not affect the interests of organizations and individuals, because there will be impacts, there will be more procedures,” he said.

“But there has to be a choice made between national security interests and the protection of people’s legal rights versus personal freedom and the right to use the internet.”

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