On the 1st of January 2019, a new censorship law took effect in Vietnam. Up until now, the internet was a relatively free platform in the sometimes restrictive country. The new legislation means that the government can now monitor and punish even more people whose views do not align with its views.
The Vietnamese government already has many laws that regulate the internet, so critics are comparing this new law to The Great Firewall of China. Sexually explicit, violent and politically sensitive content are all regulated in Vietnam. The law on Information Technology allows the government to punish any domestic or foreign individuals (living or visiting Vietnam) who create any content opposing the state. Such ‘criminals’ can be fined or imprisoned, making online privacy essential if you want to live or travel there.
In 2010, the government also ordered all organizations that offer free WiFi to install tracking software. In 2013, any distribution of materials that would harm national security or oppose the government was also banned. Social media and blogging platforms were the only place left for people to exchange their ‘personal information.’ However, three years later, two major blogging platforms – Blogger and WordPress – were also blocked.
The new law, according to the Vietnamese government, is aimed at increasing cybersecurity and attracting even more investors. However, it will be done in a rather peculiar way. The government will track the content posted on social media (or other platforms) and will ask organizations to remove ‘state-offensive content’ within 24 hours. The government will also ask organizations that have more than 10,000 Vietnamese users to establish local offices in Vietnam and host local servers there.
Unlike China, the Vietnamese government doesn’t intend to block any major social media websites. However, tech giants like Facebook and Google still opposed the new law. They are concerned that it will allow the government to more easily access users’ data and arrest local employees. The affected companies will have another 12 months to move their data centers to Vietnam (days after the bill took effect, Vietnam accused Facebook of violating the law and allowing its users to post anti-state messages.)
People living in or visiting the country should be more concerned than ever about their online privacy. If not, they will certainly need to think twice before sharing anything on social media or expressing their opinion about Vietnam online. The country has a track record of bloggers and activists who were sentenced because of their social or political views.
“While it’s likely that activists who have previously spoken up against government abuses will be targeted first, the government’s longer-term plan is to bring the internet under the same draconian controls that affect print media, TV and radio. The government’s new year gift to its citizens is intensified fear about what they can say online and uncertainty about what issues and statements will trigger arrests and prosecution.”
Visiting or living in countries with oppressive regimes can be difficult. Something you would carelessly post in your homeland might result in unexpected punishments in Vietnam. Sometimes you might not be familiar with the laws and you won’t even know what content will be perceived as inappropriate. You should always protect your privacy, which you can easily do by using a VPN.
Ensure your online privacy and security in Vietnam and wherever else you go!