The passing of a new cybersecurity law by the Vietnamese parliament has led to criticism of its potential effect on freedom of speech and expression.
Legislators said the new regulation, which will require tech companies to store data about Vietnamese users on local servers, will increase security in the country.
But according to critics, this move could possibly stifle free speech for Vietnamese internet users as the companies might be forced to hand over large amounts of private information to the government.
The new law will prohibit users from organising online for anti-state purposes, spreading false information or take part in online activities that potentially undermine the country’s achievements or solidarity.
In a response, human rights organisation Amnesty International called the new law “deeply regressive”.
“This decision has potentially devastating consequences for freedom of expression in Vietnam. 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,” a statement by Amnesty said.
“With the sweeping powers it grants the government to monitor online activity, this vote means there is now no safe place left in Vietnam for people to speak freely.”
In a previous statement, Amnesty said this law would pose a threat to the one place where Vietnamese are still able to speak their mind.
“The internet is the last remaining space where Vietnamese citizens can express their opinions with a relative degree of freedom. This law would emphatically put an end to that,” that statement said.
“The provisions for data localisation, controls on content that affect free speech, and local office requirements will undoubtedly hinder the nation’s 4th Industrial Revolution ambitions to achieve GDP and job growth,” an AIC statement said.
Over the years, the Vietnamese government has limited access to websites critical of the government and internet activists have been arrested and persecuted a number of times.
A 2012 report by Reporters Without Borders called the Vietnamese government “an enemy of the internet”.
The new Vietnamese law is somewhat similar to a law passed recently by China, which forces tech companies like Apple to host data on local servers, which allows the Chinese government to access for example private iCloud data from its Chinese users.
Privacy lawyers and human rights organisations said that new law represented a big downgrade in protections for Chinese customers.