Vietnam’s Decree Silent On Local Offices for Foreign Internet Companies

2013-07-19
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A Vietnamese man reads online news with his laptop at a coffee shop in downtown Hanoi, Jan. 15, 2013.
AFP

A new decree spelling out legal requirements for foreign Internet companies operating in Vietnam does not contain a clause from an earlier draft version compelling them to open offices inside the one-party Communist state.

A copy of Decree No. 72, which was signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on July 15 and will go into effect on Sept. 1, omits the clause found in a draft version of the document as recently as April, according to a copy of the law seen by RFA's Vietnamese Service.

Rights groups have complained that by forcing foreign companies to maintain offices or data centers in Vietnam, which media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has listed as an “Enemy of the Internet,” authorities would be able to make them obey domestic rules.

Despite the waiver, the new decree will still require companies like Facebook and Google to adhere to a strict set of guidelines governing what kind of content they can host on their websites and forcing them to turn over personal information about users who violate Vietnamese law.

The guidelines are applied to “organization/individuals inside and outside Vietnam, directly/indirectly involved in managing/providing Internet services and information, and online games, ensuring information safety,” according to the decree.

Prohibited activities include using the Internet and online information to “go against the state of socialist republic of Vietnam, jeopardizing national security or social order, damaging national unity, issuing war propaganda, carrying out acts of terrorism, creating hatred between ethnic groups … [or] revealing state secrets including those related to the military, security and foreign affairs.”

The document says that Vietnam’s policy of development and management of Internet and online information is meant to “prevent activities … affecting national security/social order, degrading morals, tradition, and violating the law.”

Only information “in accordance to the law of Vietnam can be carried on Internet, including information available to users in the country from abroad.”

The decree says that foreign organizations, companies and individuals providing information that is accessible via the Internet from abroad to users in Vietnam or for people who can access it from inside the country “must adhere to the relevant regulations of Vietnam.”

The Ministry of Information and Communications will provide specific guidance on providing online content from outside the country.

Earlier drafts

An earlier draft of the decree regulating Internet use in Vietnam was slammed by the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi in June last year, with Washington calling the proposal “unworkable” and a threat to freedom of expression in the country.

That draft required Internet users to register with their real names and forced foreign Internet companies to relocate their data centers and establish local offices in Vietnam.

The U.S. said at the time that the proposed measures would hamper commercial development of the Internet sector and threaten netizens’ rights to express their ideas freely.

The draft decree also drew the attention of U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf, who wrote a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calling on him to promote the principles of democracy and human rights through his company’s corporate actions if the new set of online restrictions were enacted in Vietnam.

Zuckerberg had vacationed in Vietnam in December 2011 with his now-wife Priscilla Chan.

Facebook is intermittently blocked in Vietnam, though netizens can access the site with relative ease.

An earlier decree in August 2008 did not include information about managing foreign companies providing online content to Vietnam from abroad.

The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed under Vietnam’s constitution and the Vietnamese government has signed international obligations to ensure that right.

But Vietnam has jailed at least 38 netizens and activists amid a crackdown on online dissent that has intensified over the past three years, convicting many of them under vaguely worded national security provisions, according to rights groups.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.