AP — Vietnamese legislators on Tuesday passed a contentious cybersecurity law, which critics say will hurt the economy and further restrict freedom of expression.
The law requires service providers such as Google and Facebook to store user data in Vietnam, open offices in the country and remove offending contents within 24 hours at the request of the Ministry of Information and Communications and the specialized cybersecurity task-force under the Ministry of Public Security.
Addressing the Communist Party-dominated assembly before the vote, chairman of the Committee on Defense and Security Vo Trong Viet said the law is “extremely necessary to defend the interests of the people and national security”.
Viet said the law doesn’t contradict Vietnam’s commitments to multinational trade treaties such as the World Trade Organization and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but he said there are exceptions on national security grounds.
He said requiring foreign companies to set up data centers in Vietnam may increase their operational costs, but it was necessary for the country’s cybersecurity and will facilitate the companies’ operations and user activities.
“When there are acts of violation of cybersecurity, the coordination in handling the violations will be more effective and more viable,” Viet said, without elaborating.
The United States and Canada have called on Vietnam to delay the passage of legislation.
The U.S. Embassy said last week it found the draft containing “serious obstacles to Vietnam’s cybersecurity and digital innovation future, and may not be consistent with Vietnam’s international trade commitments.”
Amnesty International said the decision has potentially devastating consequences for freedom of expression.
“In the country’s deeply repressive climate, the online space was a relative refuge where people could go to share ideas and opinions with less fear of censure by the authorities,” Clare Algar, Amnesty International’s director of global operations, said in a statement Tuesday.
She said the law grants the government sweeping powers to monitor online activity, which means “there is now no safe place left in Vietnam for people to speak freely.”