Vietnam cyber law will guard against fake news, terrorism: security ministry

HANOI (Reuters) - A Vietnamese cybersecurity law that global technology companies and rights groups have warned could undermine development and stifle innovation, will protect the country from increasing cyber threats, the security ministry has said.

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Legislators approved the law in June, overriding strong objections from companies like Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google, rights groups and Western governments including the United States.

But the Ministry of Public Security, which administers the police, said the Communist nation was threatened by tens of thousands of large-scale cyber attacks that directly cause serious economic losses and threaten security and social order.

“The enactment of the Cybersecurity Law is essential to meet the urgent requirement to protect cybersecurity,” the ministry said in a question-and-answer session posted on its website.

The law, which comes into effect next year, requites foreign technology firms to set up offices and store data in Vietnam.

Facebook and Google, both widely used in the country, do not have local offices or local data storage facilities.

The ministry said there had been no effective way to control things such as fake news and slander which caused “unfortunate consequences”.

It also said unidentified “enemy” and “reactionary” forces were using cyber space to call for protests and incite riots and terrorism.

Despite sweeping economic reforms and increasing openness to social change, Vietnam’s Communist Party retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate dissent.

Officials from private companies have privately expressed concern that the law will make it easier for authorities to seize customer data and expose local employees to arrest.

The ministry said people’s information would not be disclosed and firms would only be asked to provide user information for investigations or law enforcement under strict procedures.

The law would not prevent people from accessing Facebook or Google, the ministry said, but anyone who violated it would be dealt with strictly.

Reporting by Mai Nguyen; Editing by Robert Birsel