May 30, 2018
Amid worldwide efforts to improve internet security, Vietnam’s government considers the debate for increased surveillance and internet safety protocols.
National Assembly (NA) deputies have raised concerns that the draft law on internet security will prevent Vietnamese citizens and companies from accessing information on the web.
The draft law insists that foreign service providers, including giant internet service companies like Google, Youtube and Facebook, must store Vietnamese customers’ information on local servers instead of on servers located overseas, as currently practised.
On Tuesday morning, NA members gathered in the main hall for their second discussion on the draft law prepared by the Ministry of Public Security, which is meant to ensure national security in the age of the internet.
Deputy Phạm Thị Thanh Thủy from Thanh Hóa Province opposed Article 26 of the law. It requires that all local and foreign organisations and companies, which provide internet services or own an information network in Việt Nam, set up a representative office in the country and store their customers’ personal data as well as important data related to national security in local servers.
Thủy called for reconsideration of this regulation. “Data servers for many popular internet services are located overseas,” she said, adding that the world now increasingly relied on cloud servers, or virtual servers, to store data instead of older physical servers.
“This requirement is hardly feasible and will create problems for the Vietnamese people to access information on the internet, if service providers fail to comply with the law,” she said.
Phú Thọ province deputy Cao Đình Thưởng said it would be helpful if the law could make foreign businesses store data in local servers, but raised questions about the potential consequences if those companies, for example Facebook and Google, refused to do so.
“What is our solution then? Will we ask them to stop providing the service in Việt Nam?” he asked.
Many other deputies raised concerns about the threat to Vietnamese citizens’ privacy posed by an article stipulating that an internet security specialised force under the Ministry of Public Security will have the jurisdiction to examine the information networks of any organisations and agencies upon authorities’ requests.
According to NA deputy Nguyễn Phương Tuấn from Ninh Bình Province, that means that the specialised police could monitor not only the networks vital to national security, but also those that are not vital.
“The risk for leakage of personal information or trade secrets is significant,” he added, but Vietnamese people and businesses would have no choice but to endure it for the supposed sake of national security if the regulation were passed.
Bạc Liêu Province deputy Tạ Văn Hạ shared his fellow deputy’s concern, stressing that such a potent tool given to the police would very likely lead to abuse of power, compromising the rights of individuals and organisations.
National security breach
Deputy Lê Bình Nhưỡng from the southern province of Bến Tre asked why the phrase “national security” was repeated throughout the draft law on internet security but there is not a single regulation defining a “national security breach”.
“The (draft) law is born to protect the national security, but it also has to ensure the basic rights of freedom of the citizens and the businesses, which are guaranteed by the Constitution,” Nhưỡng said.
The people were allowed to do whatever the laws did not prohibit, he said, so the draft law must clearly state what actions were considered off –limits, instead of employing the vague phrase of “national security” which could be construed in many ways by different people.
Trust in the police
Nghệ An province deputy Nguyễn Hữu Cầu, who is also the director of the provincial police department, defended the regulation regarding the establishment of a representative office. He cited Facebook, which has so far set up some 70 offices in other countries, to imply that the company could now also open a new office in Việt Nam.
The regulation, according to him, was “reasonable and practical.”
A police colonel, deputy Nguyễn Minh Đức from HCM City, meanwhile, assured the NA that the police would never leak personal information or trade secrets as many feared.
“It is the responsibility of the police. They won’t compromise,” he said.
Earlier on the same day, Minister of Education and Training Phùng Xuân Nhạ presented to the NA the draft amendment to the Law on Education.
A highlight of the new law was to eliminate the policy of free tuition for teacher training college students. Instead, it proposes a so-called education credit scheme. It would provide loans to the students throughout their years in college, and if the students work as a teacher for a given amount of time after graduation, they would no longer need to pay the debt.
The NA is expected to discuss the draft amended Law on Education on June 11.