Vietnam Tightens Grip on Internet With Data-Storage Law

Vietnam Tightens Grip on Internet With Data-Storage Law

New cybersecurity law requires internet companies to store Vietnam-based users’ data on servers in the country

By James Hookway June 12, 2018 6:35 a.m. ET

Vietnam’s plans to vigorously police the internet took a step forward Tuesday when it adopted a cybersecurity law that requires internet companies such as Facebook and Google to store their Vietnam-based users’ data on servers in the country.

Critics say the new law could make it easier for authorities in the one-party communist state to track down critics online. Legislation passed by the National Assembly also requires internet companies to open offices in the country, which they have been hesitant to do, in addition to removing content within 24 hours at the government’s request.

Last year, China enacted a law requiring that cloud data from China-based consumers be stored in the country, sparking worries about privacy. And Vietnam has steadily increased scrutiny of what is posted online as Facebook’s reach has grown.

Both Facebook Inc. and Google, owned by Alphabet Inc., have long flagged their opposition to the law through the Asia Internet Coalition, which also includes companies such as Apple Inc., Yahoo and Twitter Inc. The group has warned that the measures could deter investment and undermine local businesses that have profited from a boom in social media in recent years

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, meanwhile, warned last week that the law “might not be consistent with Vietnam’s international trade commitments,” notably with the World Trade Organization.

Tuesday’s vote at the National Assembly, which is widely regarded as a rubber stamp for the government, was conducted amid strict security, with police placing barricades at the roads leading to the building. Vietnam has seen a surge in protests in recent days over plans to allow foreign companies 99-year land leases at strategic sites. Many of the thousands demonstrators who took to the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and other cities said they were worried that companies from Vietnam’s historic rival, China, would use the proposals to get a foothold in the country.

In some areas, cars were torched outside police stations. The government pledged to review the plans.

Some of the demonstrators had also railed against the cybersecurity law, but there was little prospect of Vietnam’s government relenting on that measure.

Late last year, Hanoi introduced a new 10,000-strong cyber unit called Force 47 to patrol the web to counter what it described as any “wrongful opinions” about the government.

The country has increased the penalties for anyone using Facebook as a platform to attack the government.

In November, a young blogger was given a seven-year prison sentence for “spreading propaganda against the state.” Another, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, has begun a hunger strike against her treatment in prison, according to her mother. Ms. Quynh was sentenced to a 10 years in June last year for protesting the government’s inaction on environmental issues.


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