New data storage rules for Facebook and Google as Vietnam passes cybersecurity law

Law essential to fight cybercrime, authorities say. But critics warn of potential to harm to investment and free speech

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 12:51pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 9:17pm

Vietnamese lawmakers approved a controversial cybersecurity law on Tuesday, voting amid tight security following weekend protests over other legislation that turned violent in some parts of the communist country.

The law, approved by 91 per cent of attending lawmakers, would require Facebook, Google and other global technology firms to store locally “important” personal data on users in Vietnam and open offices in the country.

The companies have pushed back against the provisions.

The vote took place two days after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in several cities and provinces to denounce a plan to create new economic zones for foreign investment that has fuelled anti-Chinese sentiment in the country.

Security was tight ahead of Tuesday’s vote, with police manning barricades outside the National Assembly in the capital Hanoi.

Some protesters on Sunday had derided the cybersecurity bill, which experts and activists say could cause economic harm and stifle online dissent.

The United States and Canada had urged Vietnam to delay the vote and review the cyber law to ensure it aligned with international standards amid worries it may present serious obstacles to Vietnam’s cybersecurity and digital innovation future.

Canada said some of the localisation requirements might increase costs, uncertainty and risks for Canadian businesses and inhibit their global operations.

The Vietnam Digital Communication Association (VCDA) said the requirements could reduce Vietnam’s gross domestic product by 1.7 per cent and wipe off 3.1 per cent of foreign investment. Trade and foreign investment are key to Vietnam’s economy.

It also raised fears about tougher restrictions on online dissent by requiring social media companies in Vietnam to remove offending content from their platforms within one day of receiving a request from the authorities.

Unlike China, Vietnam doesn’t block websites such as Facebook, Google and Twitter. Police, however, have stepped up crackdowns on bloggers and Facebook critics since 2016 with jail sentences.

The government has deployed 10,000 members of a military cyber warfare unit to combat what it sees as a growing threat of “wrongful views” proliferating on the internet.

The government has also pressured Vietnamese companies to suspend advertising on YouTube and other sites showing anti-government videos.

Human Rights Watch said last week the bill targets free expression and access to information, while Amnesty International said the law would allow Vietnamese authorities to force tech firms to hand over data to censor users’ posts.

Vo Trong Viet, head of the defence and security committee which drafted the law, said the requirement to store data inside Vietnam was feasible, crucial to fighting cybercrime and in line with international rules.

“Placing data centre in Vietnam increases costs for businesses but is a necessary requirement to meet the cybersecurity need of the country,” he told lawmakers.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg