On June 12, Vietnam’s National Assembly approved a controversial new cyber law that had long been mulled. The passage of the legislation once again put the focus on the government’s ongoing efforts to tackle threats in the cyber realm in spite a range of concerns that have been raised about infringements on rights and threats to the country’s economic competitiveness.
As I have noted before in these pages, not unlike the conversation in some other neighboring states, Vietnamese officials have been arguing over the years that the confluence of several trends, including the increasing number of Vietnamese going online and the emphasis on the fourth industrial revolution, offers both opportunities as well as major challenges for Hanoi, especially in the cyber realm where opponents can sabotage the regime (See: “What’s Behind Vietnam’s New Military Cyber Command?”).
In response, the Vietnamese government has been taking a series of measures, including passing new legislation, boosting collaboration with other countries to develop its own capabilities, exerting greater control and regulation of social media networks, and developing its own cyber defenses. While the government has argued that these moves boost the country’s security, they have also amplified existing concerns around democracy and human rights as well as restrictions for companies operating there.
This week saw further scrutiny on this issue when, as expected, Vietnam’s National Assembly overwhelmingly approved new cybersecurity legislation. The law, which has long been mulled and debated, raised concerns – not just internationally but even among some in Vietnam – on several fronts ranging from infringements on freedoms to effects on the growth of the digital economy. Others had also argued that the law was effectively redundant and inconsistent with some of the previous legislation the country already has in place.
In a sign of some of that opposition, the approval of the law came amid violent protests in parts of the country over a separate bill on creating new economic zones for foreign investment, which reportedly also saw some protesters criticize the cybersecurity bill as well. The Vietnamese government had already taken cautionary security measures ahead of the vote on the law, recognizing that it had been a source of controversy.
The new law itself, which is set to take effect in January 2019, has certain specific requirements, including for global technology firms to store personal data on users locally in Vietnam and cooperate with the government in removing offensive content. Several companies and countries had already expressed their concerns to Hanoi about the law before its passage. As the country looks ahead to the coming months and potentially additional such measures in the cyber realm, how various internal and external actors adjust to them will continue to be interesting to watch.