Google, Facebook Fret About Vietnam Internet Restrictions

Vietnam faces mounting criticism over an Internet law that a coalition of 21 governments said may deter foreign investment and stifle free speech, threatening the country’s push to develop its technology industry.

The decree, which goes into effect Sept. 1, prohibits the use of the Internet to harm national security, incite ethnic or religious violence and disclose “secrets” related to the government, army and economy. The Freedom Online Coalition is “deeply concerned” by the law, the group said in a statement posted today on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.

The legislation risks harming the economy by “constraining the development of businesses in Vietnam, limiting innovation and deterring foreign investment,” according to the Coalition, which includes the U.S., U.K. and Germany. The statement echoes complaints from U.S. companies that are concerned they’ll be required to give Vietnamese authorities access to local servers under the new law.

“The decree is a throwback to the days of autarky with its restrictions on the free use of the Internet and the arbitrariness of the restrictions, ill-defined in law,” said John Ure, executive director of the Asia Internet Coalition, which represents Google Inc., Facebook Inc., Yahoo Inc., eBay Inc. and Inc. “This decree is inconsistent with fostering the Internet to create a vibrant digital economy.”

The law, known as Decree 72, says blogs and social media sites “should be used to provide and exchange information of that individual, not in the name of any other organization.” It also prohibits the use of the Internet for “obscene, depraved acts, crimes, social evils, superstition, harming fine customs and habits of the nation” and to spread “distorted, slanderous information” that harms organizations and individuals.

Social Media

In an Aug. 6 statement, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said the decree’s provisions “appear to limit the types of information individuals can share via personal social media accounts and on websites.”

Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen, head of the electronic information section under the Department of Radio, Television and Electronic Information Management, didn’t respond to Bloomberg questions sent by fax. The department is part of the Ministry of Information and Communications, which oversees Internet regulations.

Restrictions under the decree seem to apply to domestic and foreign companies, “despite some unofficial reassurances that this would not be the case,” Ure said.

Domestic Internet companies will be required to have data servers inside Vietnam when the law takes effect. The government will issue guidelines to foreign-based companies later, according to the regulation.

— With assistance by John Boudreau

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