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New Vietnamese Internet mandate may further curb freedom of speech

Article 19 reports that Vietnam is implementing a new Internet regulatory mandate that may significantly alter free speech in the country.  They explain that the decree “requires all online users to use their real names and personal details, which in turn will create an environment of self-censorship.”  In addition to requiring real identities, the law also forces “Internet companies to locate servers and offices inside the country, thereby placing them directly under Vietnamese law.”

Requiring companies to locate servers and offices within Vietnam would “force popular social networking services like Facebook and Google to locate servers inside the country and set up a local presence in Vietnam.”  Herdict’s raw data show that Facebook is frequently blocked in Vietnam; this law, then, would further exacerbate the hurdle for citizens’ access to the site with its insistence on companies providing a local presence in the country.  Further, Vietnamese Internet service providers (ISPs) would be expected to enforce these requirements “on pain of sanctions.”

According to CNS News, the US embassy has responded to the legislation in messages sent to Hanoi’s communication and information ministry.  The US government has taken the position that the law “would be extremely difficult to implement and would impose such prohibitive regulatory burdens that many innovative suppliers simply might not be able to enter the market or, if currently present, might abandon it for other markets.”  Additionally, the US is concerned about the provisions’ likelihood “to negatively impact individuals’ rights to freedom of expression in Vietnam.”

For Internet activists and Vietnamese citizens alike, the decree is worrisome due to the increased opportunities for surveillance and censorship that it will create.  For instance, by forcing companies to locate servers within Vietnam, it will be easier for the government to demand records and track the online actions of its citizens.  Up until recently, the international media had not paid much attention to this legislation.  As the law’s enforcement comes closer to reality, however, there has been a slight increase in public attention through Article 19’s blog and CNS’s coverage.

This legislation is not new terrain for Vietnam.  The OpenNet Initiative’s profile on Vietnam explains the socialist regime’s reputation for implementing multilayered filtering tactics.  The government states that they guarantee freedom of speech, but according to ONI’s testing “the state concentrates its blocking on content about overseas political opposition, overseas and independent media, human rights, and religious topics.”  These tactics and reports of the Vietnamese government detaining dissident bloggers have caused EFF and Reporters Without Border to dub Vietnam an “enemy of the Internet.”

This law has been on the books for months, however, it is expected that the law will go into effect within the month.  Given Vietnam’s complex Internet regulatory structure and their questionable history in free speech protection, this legislation is simply the latest addition to a long string of restrictive moves.

About the Author: Cale Guthrie Weissman

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