Vietnam’s new cyber security law draws concern for restricting free speech

Big tech firms including Google, Facebook and Twitter have expressed major concern after Vietnam’s government passed a law that promises to introduce tighter restrictions on free speech online.

The new regulation passed this week strengthens the government’s position on censoring the internet, drawing Amnesty International to decry that it leaves “no safe place for people to speak freely” in Vietnam. Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) — a group that represents Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Line and others — furthered cautioned that it would harm the development of the country’s digital economy.

Among the broad points, the new cyber security law forbids internet users from organizing with, or training, others for anti-state purposes, spreading false information, and undermining the nation state’s achievements or solidarity, according to reports.

“This decision has potentially devastating consequences for freedom of expression in Vietnam. In the country’s deeply repressive climate, the online space was a relative refuge where people could go to share ideas and opinions with less fear of censure by the authorities,” Amnesty International added in a statement.

Internet censorship isn’t new to Vietnam, but the law increases the state’s potential to act. Concern is already high following a string of arrests over the past year which has seen bloggers jailed for discussing environmental issues, politics and more online.

Beyond limiting free speech, the cyber law also applies pressure to foreign internet companies who will now be required to operate a local office and store user information on Vietnamese soil. Currently, in the case of Google and Facebook, data on Vietnam-based users is stored overseas in locations such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

Google and Facebook both declined to comment, but they are part of the AIC which did make a statement condemning the new law.

“The provisions for data localization, controls on content that affect free speech, and local office requirements will undoubtedly hinder the nation’s fourth Industrial Revolution ambitions to achieve GDP and job growth,” AIC wrote in a statement.

“Unfortunately, these provisions will result in severe limitations on Vietnam’s digital economy, dampening the foreign investment climate and hurting opportunities for local businesses and SMEs to flourish inside and beyond Vietnam,” the organization added.

The people of Vietnam have also voiced their discontent at the new law. Bloomberg reports that demonstrations took place on Sunday ahead of the voting.