A new cyber security law in Vietnam requires social media companies to remove content from the internet that is deemed by the authorities as offensive or toxic, reports National Public Radio. The bill came into effect on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The bill requires companies such as Facebook and Google to open offices in Vietnam, and hand over information to the government when asked for it.

Under the law, internet users in Vietnam are also prohibited from spreading information that is deemed to be anti-state, anti-government, or use the internet to distort history. The law also bans the internet users from posting “false information that could cause confusion and damage” to socio-economic activities.

According to an AFP report, the bill was aimed at “staving off cyber-attacks and weeding out hostile and reactionary forces.”

How companies and organisations reacted

Responding to the legislation, the industry group Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) told Reuters that the law would limit Vietnam’s digital economy, dampen foreign investment and hurt local businesses.

  • Facebook said that it would “remove content that violated (Facebook’s) standards” when made aware of it.
  • Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia, Human Rights Watch was quoted by The Guardian as saying that the legislation was “the legal equivalent of a hammer to bash online critics, with overly broad provisions that can be easily used to classify almost any critical comment as criminal.”
  • When the decree was passed by the National Assembly in June last year, Clare Algar, director of global operations at Amnesty International, had issued a statement saying,

“With the sweeping powers it grants the government to monitor online activities, this vote means there is now no safe place left in Vietnam for people to speak freely.”

Surveillance in the digital age

The Indian government, on December 20th, issued a notification directing all central security agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt “any information on any computer.” The government notified it under section 69(1) of the Information Technology Act, 2000. According to the Act, the central or state government and its officers can surveil any computer if it is necessary or expedient-

  • “In the interest of sovereignty or integrity of India
  • defence of India
  • security of the state
  • friendly relations with foreign states or public order or
  • for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above or for investigation of any offence”

Earlier in December, the lower house of the Australian parliament passed a bill through which security agencies could compel technology companies to grant access to encrypted messages.

The list of activities that law enforcement can ask companies to do included:

  • Removing more than one form of electronic protection;
  • Giving technical information;
  • Helping them access services and equipments;
  • Installation and modification software and technology for eg: Apple Home or Amazon Alexa modified to record audio continuously;
  • Concealing the above changes from the public.

Also read: 40 government departments are using a social media surveillance tool