Question: How free is the internet? Answer: Less than free in certain countries. Further answer: And becoming even less free in other countries — witness Vietnam, discussed briefly below.
At the start of this month, a law went into effect in Vietnam that mandates removal of online content considered offensive to the Vietnamese government. According to SoyaCincau.com, the law was put on the books “under the pretenses” of Cybersecurity, but what it actually does is require the takedown of content deemed “toxic” by the government.
Moreover, under the new law, user data will have to be provided to the Vietnamese government by tech companies such as Google and Facebook if requested by the government. They also may be required to open up representative offices in Vietnam.
Internet users in Vietnam also are banned under the new law from communicating information considered to be adverse to the government or that could cause confusion and damage to socio-economic activities.
There has been international concern and criticism that the new Vietnamese law will lead to internet censorship like has been seen in China.
Facebook, for one, has said in reaction to the Vietnamese law that it believes in the rights of its users and that it wants to enable people to express themselves safely. Facebook also has stated that it removes content that violates its own standards when made aware that those standards have been transgressed, and further that it has a process to manage requests from around the world. Of course, how Facebook precisely balances these competing interests is not entirely clear.
Vietnam has attracted technology business in recent years. One must wonder whether internet restrictions like those caused by the new law might act as a deterrent to such business development in Vietnam from the outside.
Or, perhaps further pressure from the international community, including tech businesses, could cause the Vietnamese government to rethink its position. But that likely would take time, even if such change could be effectuated, which is far from certain.
Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod’s columns, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.