Vietnam's Internet Censorship Law Goes Into Effect

Rhett Pardon

HANOI — A new law in Vietnam is further curbing online free speech and now forces foreign companies to keep servers inside the country.

Decree 72, which became effective Sept. 1, prohibits the posting of material that "opposes" the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and "harms national security" and other vague terms.

Vietnam banned pornography years ago and has maintained strict enforcement of it.

The decree says blogs and social websites shouldn't be used to share news articles; only personal information.

Under the new rules, companies with a local presence must have a server in the country and monitor content for "prohibited acts." These include "promoting violence, debauchery, a depraved lifestyle, crimes, social evils, and superstitious practices."

Experts say the law's unclear wording will stifle innovation and discourage businesses from operating in Vietnam at a time when its communications industry is growing by the day. Internet users Vietnam increased from just more than 17 percent of the population in 2006 to more than 35 percent in 2011.

Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorneys Eva Galperin and Maira Sutton say that Decree 72 is packed with vague language, including bans on “abusing the provision and use of the Internet and information on the web” to “oppose the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” and “undermining the fine customs and traditions of the nation.”

"It requires filtering of all such offensive content, requires real-name identification for all personal websites and profiles, and creates legal liability for intermediaries such as blogs and ISPs for failing to regulate third-party contributors, triggering grave concerns about the law’s impact on domestic online service providers," the EFF attorneys said.

"In addition, the decree attempts to require all foreign and domestic companies that provide online services to cooperate with the government to take down prohibited content. For international companies without a business presence in Vietnam, the law would 'encourage' them to establish offices or representatives in the country in order to hold them accountable for implementation of the decree.

"Some supporters of Decree 72 also claim that the law could function as a means to fight content piracy. Vietnam is one of the 12 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and it's unclear if that status has compelled authorities to embrace copyright enforcement as one of its functions, or if they are simply trying to further legitimize this already draconian law."