Vietnam cuts domestic server requirement for foreign firms from cyber-security bill

By Hoang Thuy   January 11, 2018 | 10:45 am GMT+7

The bill still requires tech giants such as Google and Facebook to store Vietnamese users' data in the country.

Vietnam's Ministry of Public Security has scrapped an article requiring foreign tech giants such as Google and Facebook to install servers in Vietnam from its draft cyber-security law.

The adjustment, which was presented for discussion on Wednesday at a session of Vietnam's legislative National Assembly was made after the previous version of the bill was opposed by both lawmakers and experts.

According to the adjusted bill, foreign telecommunications and/or internet services in Vietnam should obey the law, respect Vietnam's national sovereignty, interests and security and open representative offices in the country if they have at least 10,000 Vietnamese users or if requested to do so by the government.

While no longer requiring a server to be located in the country, the bill still requires foreign enterprises to store data on Vietnamese users in Vietnam, as well as important data collected or generated from activities in the country.

"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.

At the session, representatives from the information, science and defense ministries also voiced support for the bill's aim to control information in Vietnam in order to maintain security and combat criminal activities.

"Installing domestic servers or not is not important, the important point is we must be able to control all information going in and out," said Dinh The Cuong, head of the Ministry of Defense's Department of Information Technology.

"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."

When questioned by lawmakers on the basis of the bill, Lam stressed that Vietnamese users' data is national property. Keeping it in Vietnam and managing it is therefore a matter of sovereignty and national security.

Regarding the feasibility of the bill, Hoang Phuoc Thuan, head of the Ministry of Public Security's Department of Cyber-security, said once it becomes law, cross-border service providers will be required to provide systems that allow Vietnam to control the data.

Officials from the Ministry of Public Security also said that the bill's aim is to trace the sources and methods of criminal activities, citing recent cyber-security measures taken by the European Union as an example to defend the bill.

However, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, chairwoman of the National Assembly, urged the bill's drafters to make sure that "Vietnam is not added to the list of countries that block the internet" and that the bill complies with international trade commitments that Vietnam has signed.

The National Assembly is scheduled to have a final discussion about the bill before voting on it at a session in May.

Around 60 percent of the country’s population of nearly 92 million is online. Vietnam is in the top 10 countries for Facebook users by numbers and Google's YouTube is also a popular platform.

The government has also called for closer watch over social media networks and sought the removal of content that it deemed offensive.

Facebook obliged last year by removing 159 anti-government accounts, while Google removed around 4,500 videos containing bad or toxic content from YouTube out of 5,000 videos requested to be taken down.

The Ministry of Information and Communications ịn January 2017 issued a circular asking Facebook and similar sites with more than one million Vietnam-based users to collaborate with authorities to block “toxic” content, ranging from ads for banned products to anti-state content.

In an article in August, President Tran Dai Quang, a former Minister of Public Security, called for tougher controls of the internet and highlighted threats to cyber-security.

He said hostile forces had used the internet to organize offensive campaigns that "undermined the reputation of leaders of the party and the state, with a negative impact on cadres, party members and the people."

Quang said Vietnam needed to focus more on controlling online information, especially on social networks, and needed an effective solution "to prevent news sites and blogs from carrying bad or dangerous content".