Vietnamese lawmakers have passed a new cybersecurity law this week, despite widespread concerns that online dissent may be stifled and business climate threatened.
The legislation requires online companies to set up local offices and store data on users in Vietnam, according to a Straits Times report.
This could rein in the activities of tech giants like Facebook and Google, who now serve Vietnamese users from their regional headquarters in Singapore, unless they set up offices in Vietnam.
In response to the draft law, the US had urged Vietnam last Friday to delay a vote on the law.
“We find the draft cyber law currently before the National Assembly may present serious obstacles to Vietnam’s cybersecurity and digital innovation future, and may not be consistent with Vietnam’s international trade commitments. The United States and Canada urge Vietnam to delay the vote on the draft law to ensure it aligns with international standards,” said the US Embassy in Hanoi in a statement.
Trade and foreign investment are critical in Vietnam’s export-driven economy, and its leaders, meanwhile, have been promoting technology for growth. The Vietnam Digital Communication Association (VCDA) estimates that the latest draft could reduce GDP by 1.7% and foreign investment by 3.1% should the law come into effect.
The concerns raised have come to nought, with legislators passing the contentious cybersecurity law on Tuesday.
The law has also raised fears among activists about tighter restrictions on the voicing of dissent online. Should the law be passed social media companies would need to remove offending content from their platforms within a day of receiving a request from the authorities.
When parliamentary discussion on the Bill opened last week, lawmakers called for greater clarity and expressed fears that Vietnam-based users may be denied access to Google or Facebook services if either company ignored the demand to store data locally or set up an office.
Vietnam is not the first country wanting a greater say about how online content is shared and used. China recently banned virtual private networks that allowed its users to bypass state censorship and selected services like Facebook, which would otherwise have remained unaccessible to the majority of Chinese users.
Last year, Apple set to work on establishing its first data centre in China, in response to strict new law in China that requires companies to store users’ data in the country. It is now looking at building a second one.