Reporters Without Borders said it is calling on the Vietnamese authorities to abandon plans for a decree that would increase online censorship to an utterly unacceptable level and exacerbate the already very disturbing situation for freedom of expression in Vietnam.
According to information provided by the banned pro-democracy movement Viet Tan, which Reporters Without Borders has verified with various sources, the government intends to issue the decree in June. Entitled “Decree on the Management, Provision, Use of Internet Services and Information Content Online,” it would reinforce the already considerable legislative arsenal deployed against dissidents.
Using a deliberate vague language that would allow arbitrary interpretation, the current draft of the decree suggests that the government wants to pressgang Internet companies, including foreign ones, into helping it to reinforce online censorship and control of Internet users. Google and Facebook could be among the foreign companies affected.
As well as developing the privatization of censorship, it could criminalize any expression of dissident views and reporting of news that strays from the Communist Party official line. It also seeks to prevent journalists, bloggers and netizens from using the protection of pseudonyms when reporting online.
Reporters Without Borders urges the Internet companies concerned to resist the government’s pressure to turn them into the accomplices of its censorship. By making them locate servers and data centres in Vietnam, the decree could force them to install filtering and self-censorship systems and to reveal information about their Vietnamese users.
Reporters Without Borders would also like to point out to the Vietnamese government that the proposed new provisions could have a negative impact on the economy. Imposing restrictions on the operations of Internet companies could slow growth in a sector that is important for the economy, especially if foreign companies were forced to terminate the services they provide to Vietnamese users because of the draconian conditions imposed.
By creating trade barriers, the decree could also be odds with the undertakings that Vietnam has given to the World Trade Organization and the Trans-Pacific Partnership which is currently being negotiated between several countries including Vietnam and the United States.
In its current form, the proposed decree would:
- Force Internet users to use their real names.
- Ban Internet users from “abusing the Internet” to oppose the government, reveal confidential government information or spread defamatory information.
- Force foreign companies that provide online services such as social networking, blogging, discussion forums and chat to cooperate with the Vietnamese government and provide it with the information it needs to crack down on activities banned by the decree. It could also force them to locate data centres in Vietnam and open offices there.
- Make all news websites subject to government approval and force them to comply with existing media laws. Website administrators would have to report any banned online activities to authorities. Those responsible for “personal” blogs would have to post their names and contact information and would be held accountable for the content they posted.
In order to head off any destabilization attempts in the wake of the Arab spring, the government has reinforced repressive measures and controls in recent months, relying above all on surveillance and arrests, as well as increased online filtering.
Vietnam is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet.” With a total of 18 netizens currently detained for expressing their views freely online, it is the world’s third biggest prison for bloggers and cyber-dissidents, after China and Iran.