Viet Nam: Proposed cybersecurity law threatens to stamp out online freedom
Viet Nam’s proposed new Cybersecurity Law will grant the government unbridled power to police the last safe space for freedom of expression in the country, if passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday, said Amnesty International.
The law would give sweeping new powers to the Vietnamese authorities, allowing them to force technology companies to hand over potentially vast amounts of data, including personal information, and to censor users’ posts. Amnesty International has written an open letter to the heads of Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Samsung outlining its concerns and urging the companies to exert pressure on Vietnam’s government.
“If this law is passed the Vietnamese government will be empowered to monitor everything people say online. Giving government a license to force tech companies to hand over private information will effectively make those companies state surveillance agents,” said Clare Algar, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Operations.
“The internet is the last remaining space where Vietnamese citizens can express their opinions with a relative degree of freedom. This law would emphatically put an end to that. We urge assembly members to vote against this deeply repressive legislation, and call on tech companies to challenge this chilling proposal.”
Many articles in the proposed law are vaguely worded, allowing for broad interpretation by authorities. Amnesty International is particularly alarmed that provisions in Article 8 and Article 15 of the law could lead to people being arbitrarily charged for the exercise of their rights on the basis of extremely broad and vague offenses, such as “negating the revolution achievement” or giving “misleading information causing confusion among the people”.
The law is also likely to mean that companies could face substantial penalties if they fail to hand over information when requested. No details are given about how authorities will use the data once they obtain it.
Amnesty International wrote to the chief executive officers of Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft and to the chairman of Samsung.
Viet Nam continues to be one of the most repressive countries in the Asia region, with arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and an ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders and activists.
Currently, the country’s 60 million internet users are mostly able to express themselves with a relatively high degree of freedom online, although authorities have responded aggressively to those promoting human rights. According to media reports, the Vietnamese authorities arrested around 30 people in 2017 for using the internet to promote human rights.