VIETNAM STEPS UP INTERNET MONITORING


2004.06.09
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BANGKOK�Vietnam has issued new guidelines to coordinate greater government control and censorship of the Internet by its citizens, including a permanent monitoring system aimed at the country�s privately run Internet cafes, RFA�s Vietnamese service reports.

In a document known as Communique 99, issued May 8, deputy prime minister Khiem Gia Pham announced greater coordination between the Ministries of Culture and Information, Post and Telecommunications, and the Central Department of Cultural Thoughts.

�The Ministry of Culture and Information must collaborate with the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, and the Ministry of Security in permanently controlling the system of information and communication that, according to these agencies, carries unhealthy content via the Internet,� the communique said.

�The Ministry of Culture and Information must also collaborate with the Central Department of Cultural Thoughts in setting up standards for editors-in-chief of electronic newspapers. Also, they must work with the managing agencies to improve and consolidate the teams of editors-in-chief of electronic newspapers,� it said.

The communique is not the first move made by Hanoi toward regulating Internet access by its citizens, but it is the first to institute a system-wide and permanent monitoring system to stamp out political activism and opposition views disseminated online.

Managers of Internet cafes told RFA they are already complying with government regulations aimed at preventing their customers from searching and surfing Web sites that, according to Hanoi authorities, have committed political violations or which carry porn.

�We frequently monitor and prevent our customers from viewing bad advertisements via the Internet,� one manager of an Internet service station in the northern part of Central Vietnam told RFA. �In reality, the dirty pages on the web pop in and out without our ability to control them.�

A manager in Ho Chi Minh City said it didn�t greatly affect his business to implement the government rules. �Even if we let them surf such dirty Web sites, we don�t get extra income because we always charge them by service hours. In fact we do our Internet business mainly by providing e-mail and telephone services,� he said.

The Communique 99 regulations will attempt to tighten up the government�s monitoring system, which includes political content, by requiring all Internet service users to show their ID cards. But some businesses feared this would be hard to put into practice.

�It is difficult to ask a service user to exhibit his or her ID card simply for checking his or her e-mails. Some customers may leave our station if we ask them to show their ID cards,� said the Ho Chi Minh City manager.

Several Vietnamese cyber-dissidents have been handed stiff prison terms over the last two years for publishing material critical of the government, or for calling for greater freedom and democracy. The government has already prohibited use of the Internet to disseminate �state secrets� and called for measures to stop acts that �infringe upon national security or social order and safety.�

Last month, an appeals court upheld the seven-year jail term handed down to cyber-dissident Nguyen Vu Binh, who was convicted of espionage after posting an article on the Internet criticizing the Vietnamese government. #####

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