Vietnam To Police Blogs

With blogging on the rise in Vietnam, authorities plan tighter curbs and tougher monitoring.
2008-12-09
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Vietnamese online at an Internet cafe in Hanoi, Aug. 22, 2007.
Vietnamese online at an Internet cafe in Hanoi, Aug. 22, 2007.
AFP Photo

BANGKOK—Vietnamese authorities plan to police the content of dissident blogs through random checks and self-policing by the country’s blogging community, a senior Vietnamese Internet security expert has said.

“There should be a legal corridor to assure better operation of the blogs,” the director of the state-run Bach Khoa Internet Security Center, Nguyen Tu Quang, told RFA’s Vietnamese service. “We’ll manage them by randomly checking—we don’t need to control all the blogs.”

“When we create a legal corridor, determining what is legal and what is a violation of Vietnamese law, the blog community will detect such things on its own and will let the government know of violations,” Quang said.

We can detect blogs without help from Internet companies."

Nguyen Tu Quang, Bach Khoa Internet Security Center

Earlier this month, Information and Communication Deputy Minister Do Quy Doan was quoted as saying Hanoi would seek cooperation from Internet giants Google and Yahoo! to help "regulate" the country's flourishing blogging scene.

The government will announce new rules this month, stressing that Weblogs should serve as personal online diaries, not as organs to disseminate opinions about politics, religion, and society, senior officials were quoted as saying.

The regulations aim "to create a legal base for bloggers and related agencies to tackle violations in the area of blogging," said Information and Communication Deputy Minister Do Quy Doan, according to the Thanh Nien daily.

The ministry "will contact Google and Yahoo! for cooperation in creating the best and the healthiest environment for bloggers," he added.

Quang, speaking in a telephone interview, said getting help from Google and Yahoo! would be helpful but not critical. “Our effort to detect blogs will be more convenient if we can get help from the Internet companies,” he said, but added: “We can detect blogs without help from Internet companies.”

Quang said under the draft rules being debated violators could face up to U.S. $12,000 in fines and up to 12 years of jail time.

Wary of online content

According to recent government figures, nearly one in four Vietnamese use the Internet. Activity in Vietnam’s blogosphere has recently increased and Hanoi is becoming more wary of online content it considers politically threatening.

Authorities currently block some Web sites run by overseas Vietnamese that espouse views critical of the government, and they often seek to shut down anything seen as encouraging public protest.

In September, blogger Dieu Cay was jailed for 2-1/2 years on tax evasion charges after he tried to persuade people to protest at the Olympic torch ceremonies in Ho Chi Minh City last summer.

Reporters Without Borders called on authorities to release the cyber-dissident, whose real name is Nguyen Hoang Hai, and said he was being unjustly targeted.

Vietnam’s government is also extremely cautious of internal issues that could anger its northern neighbor.

Abide by local laws

Robert Boorstin, director of policy communications at Google, said his company hadn't been contacted with a specific request from the Vietnamese government but is aware of the plans to further regulate bloggers in the country.

“We believe that blogs are an expression of a person’s personal opinions, whether those opinions concern culture, art, their daily life, or politics—whatever they want to talk about. We don’t censor based on the content of blogs and would not want to do so,” Boorstin said.

Boorstin said Google censors “a great deal less” than other search engines around the world, but he added, "If we don’t abide by local laws, we will be thrown out” of certain countries.

He said that Google’s policy in China, where authorities restrict much of what may be accessed by netizens, is to filter results from its search engine according to local laws, but to clearly show users that results are blocked.

Google also refuses to offer its email or blogging service in China because this would force the company to operate servers within the country from which authorities could request personal information about users.

“That is the kind of place where we draw the line and say ‘No, we’re not going to venture into those kinds of services because the risk to individual freedom and the risk to our users’ privacy is too great,’” Boorstin said.

“We push the limits as far as we can push them without being told to pack up our bags and leave the country, because we don’t want to leave countries where we’re providing a service of information to people. It may not be every single piece of information that we want them to have, but much better they have access to huge new quantities of information than the other choice, which is to show them nothing at all.”

Original reporting by Tra Mi, Mac Lam, and Thien Gao for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes and Sarah Jackson-Han.

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