On January 1, Vietnam’s controversial new cyber law was in the headlines again as it officially came into effect. The focus on the law has once again put scrutiny on the government’s ongoing efforts to manage challenges in the cyber realm in spite of a range of concerns raised inside and outside the country on various counts, including on rights and economic competitiveness.
As I have noted before in these pages, over the past few years, in recognition of the challenges that cyberspace could pose for the ruling regime, the Vietnamese government has been among the countries in Southeast Asia taking measures to increase control and regulation of this domain. Efforts include passing new legislation, exerting greater control over social media networks, and developing cyber defenses. While these measures have been cast as ways to boost the country’s security, the measures have also amplified existing concerns around democracy and human rights as well as restrictions for companies operating in Vietnam.
The measure that has drawn the most headlines has been the new cyber law. The new law, which was approved by Vietnam’s National Assembly last June, has certain requirements including for global technology firms to store personal data on users locally in Vietnam and collaborating with the government in removing content deemed offensive. It had raised questions – not just internationally but even among some in Vietnam – on various counts, including infringements on rights, threats to the country’s economic competitiveness, and perceived incompatibility and inconsistency with some of the previous legislation the country already had in place.
This week, Vietnam’s new cyber law was in the headlines again as it came into effect in line with the January 1, 2019 timeline that had previously been set out. As headlines focused on the law itself, which has seven chapters and 43 articles, there was also an emphasis on events surrounding it, including other restrictions in the media climate as well as continued remarks by government officials about the significance of the law for the country’s security and cohesion.
As we progress further into 2019, observers will be watching how various internal and external actors adjust to the law as well as other additional steps in the cyber realm. In particular, scrutiny will continued to be placed on the Vietnamese government, which continues to see backlash over the law; on tech companies to see how they respond to the law; and on opposition within Vietnam given the previous controversy the law has caused. And, to be sure, as Vietnam continues to advance related priorities such as cybersecurity within its foreign policy, including as it prepares to take up the annually rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2020, one can expect to see a continued discussion on the linkages between the domestic and foreign policy realms with respect to the Southeast Asian state’s behavior.