Lawmakers urge caution on Vietnam cyber security bill

By Vu Hoang   June 11, 2018 | 01:57 am PT
Lawmakers urge caution on Vietnam cyber security bill
A man uses an iPad device in a coffee shop in Hanoi. Photo by Reuters/Kham
It goes against international commitments and could open the door to abuse of power, MPs say.

Several legislators on Monday expressed grave reservations and urged serious consideration of the proposed cyber security law before taking a decision tomorrow morning on passing it.

Nguyen Thi Kim Thuy, member of the legislative National Assembly Committee for Social Affairs, said some provisions of the bill go against commitments Vietnam made when joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement (FTA).

The bill requires firms like Google and Facebook to open representative offices in Vietnam, but both WTO and EU-Vietnam FTA rules say that cross-border telecommunications services are unlimited to WTO member markets.

And while there are certain exceptions to the rule, there is nothing that requires foreign companies to have a representative office in member countries, she said.

Besides, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP 12) that Vietnam signed in February last year does not allow signatories to dictate if a company is allowed to conduct business based on where its IT infrastructure is located.

“National security is very important and therefore, the National Assembly has already issued the law on national security and law on cyber-information security and it can be said that these two laws have worked like two very strong locks. And if the law on cyber security comes into life, it is just like adding one more lock,” said Thuy.

The law on cyber information security does not cover operations of foreign digital media firms in Vietnam. It mainly regulates the use of internet by Vietnamese nationals.

Some provisions of the bill under discussion aim to give the government greater control over foreign digital giants as well as local users posting anti-government propaganda or information that ignites violence and disturbs public security, or defamatory and slanderous content.

The bill, proposed by the Ministry of Public Security, also wants the digital tech giants to store local users’ information in Vietnam and provide such information to the ministry on request.

The NA Standing Committee has explained that the above requirement is to protect national sovereignty over electronics data and deal with cyber-incidents and behaviors that violate national security and social order.

It will also support state agencies to investigate, verify and handle violations and prevent information against the Party and the state being posted on the internet, the committee said.

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

Legislator Nguyen Lan Hieu said the cyber security law was new not only for Vietnam, but also many other countries in the world.

Since several of its provisions remain controversial, he urged the parliament to “give the bill careful consideration before passing it.”

Hieu also questioned a provision which says “the bill will prevent and handle cyber information with anti-state propaganda contents, inciting riots, disturbing security and social order, and humiliating, slandering, violating economic management order.”

He argued that there was a thin line between what is wrong and what is right for many things that happen in everyday life, so “who is going to decide whether a (piece of) cyber information is violating or not?”

He noted that in Indonesia, a judge decides whether a piece of information is toxic or not.

Nguyen Huu Cau, director of the police department in Nghe An Province, told Hieu that so far, agencies in charge of verifying information have consulted other concerned agencies for clarification.

“If the information has to do with culture, we reach out to the culture ministry, for example,” he said.

Another controversial provision of the draft law is the examination of internal networks of agencies and organizations by units under the public security ministry in case the former violate regulations or when the ministry orders such examinations.

Legislator Ta Van Ha said this provision should be reconsidered because it can trigger abuse of power and undermine the operations of agencies and organizations.

However, at the end of Monday meeting, Lieutenant General Vo Trong Viet, chairman of the NA’s National Security and Defense Committee, urged three times that the draft law is kept unchanged.

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