During the first part of last year’s November, the National Assembly of China passed the Law on Cybersecurity and established its effective date to be June 1, 2017.
Then come June 2017, five days after said law went into effect in China, the Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) sent their own proposal regarding a draft of the Cybersecurity Law to the Vietnamese government. It has been claimed that this draft law was the result of a legislative process which began to take place since July 2016, when the National Assembly scheduled Cybersecurity Law as one of its agenda’s items then. The MPS then also established their own drafting team and an editing group to work on the drafts of Vietnam’s Cybersecurity Law in late March this year.
After going through various collections of public comments and four draft versions of the law, the final draft (Draft Law) now is in the hands of the National Assemblymen and women. It would be among the items to be discussed when they meet at the end of 2017, and if all things go according to plan, Vietnam’s Cybersecurity Law will get approved and signed into laws by the middle of next year.
Yet, whether purposefully or unintentionally, Vietnam’s Draft Law has shocked many people because it is almost identical to that of China’s.
In their proposal submitted to the government, the MPS stressed that they have researched, and thus taken into considerations Cybersecurity laws from China, Japan, the Czech Republic, South Korea, and the U.S when drafting the Draft Law.
I have to make it clear that I do not have any evidence to conclude the Vietnamese government has indeed copied China’s Cybersecurity Law. Moreover, if both countries are functioning under an identical political system, then the use of identical legislative tools would be very understandable. This is even more likely when the MPS openly admitted that they have considered Chinese laws as stated. Besides, copying or learning from other countries’ legislative experiences do not necessarily mean negative consequences.
However, let’s just go straight to comparing Vietnam’s 4th draft of the Cybersecurity Law currently sitting on the desks of the National Assembly’s members and the English translation of the Chinese laws, to see how much they are alike to one another, and whether such similarities will bring negative consequences to Vietnamese people.
1. Two documents, one technical term
There is one technical term in the Vietnamese Draft Law that one should pay close attention to, which is the “critical information system regarding national security” in Article 9.
In the China’s version, there is a similar technical term: “critical information infrastructure” in Article 31.
Both laws centered on these two technical terms, and their definitions are also very much alike. Both are used to define any information, that if being under attack, they would bring harms to national security, social order and public safety.
That information – as mentioned in both Vietnam’s and China’s Cybersecurity Law – would then include energy, finance, transportation, media, and publications, as well as electronic governance.
However, the Draft Law of Vietnam also includes military-security, national secrets, banking, natural resources and environment, chemicals, medicine, and other national security structures.
The Draft Law also does not distinguish between private companies and government agencies when applying the concept of “critical information system regarding national security”. Based on the context of said law’s wordings, the targeted entities are implied to be both of them. The government and the enforcing authorities could also interpret this law as broad as possible.
Baker & McKenzie, in their analysis of the Chinese Cybersecurity Law, has warned all companies whose may have established relationships with those entities which fall under the regulatory perimeters of said law, that this law could very well be applicable to them.
The agencies and enterprises who are within the application of this law shall abide the technical measures and regulations as set by the government, and submit themselves to be under the direct control and observation of the MPS. They will have to obtain all necessary business permits to operate and maintain their equipment while at the same time, must cooperate with the authorities in monitoring users’ information.
These regulations between Vietnam and China are identical.
2. Directly target information considered to be dangerous to the regime
It is not surprising to learn that both Vietnam and China are extremely concerned about cybersecurity.
As detailed in the proposal from the MPS, the Draft Law of Vietnam focuses on underlining the importance of “preventing, fighting against, and neutralizing all activities using cyberspace to intrude national security; subverting against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; propagandizing to destroy the ideology, the internal affairs, and the common national unification; inciting mass protests; and obstructing cybersecurity, from the reactionary forces and those who are enemies of the State”.
Further, Article 22 of the Draft Law clearly states that the Vietnamese government would apply all necessary technical methods to treat such information.
Article 12 of the Chinese Cybersecurity Law has a similar provision when it prohibits Internet users from using “the network to engage in activities endangering national security, national honor, and interests, inciting subversion of national sovereignty, the overturn of the socialist system, inciting separatism, undermining national unity, advocating terrorism or extremism, inciting ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination, disseminating violent, obscene or sexual information, creating or disseminating false information to disrupt the economic or social order, as well as infringing on the reputation, privacy, intellectual property or other lawful rights and interests of others, and other such acts”.
3. Requiring all Internet users to provide true identity
Article 47 of the Vietnamese Draft Law specifically demands all Internet service providers to require “users to provide true and correct personal information. If any user refuses to comply, the service providers shall have the responsibility to deny that user service”.
At the same time, Internet service providers must establish their own verification system to ensure the accuracy and veracity of the information provided by the service users according to Article 33.
Article 24 of the Chinese Cybersecurity Law has the same language as those contained in the Vietnamese Draft Law’s Article 47.
Once businesses and the State can obtain users’ detailed personal information, there will be no guaranty that they would not use it for improper purposes, and would not harm such users.
4. The server is required to be localized within Vietnam’s territory and the providers will have to transmit their data overseas
This requirement has proven to be the most controversial in the past few days among the public in Vietnam.
Article 34 of the Draft Law requires “foreign corporations and providers, in order to provide telecommunications and Internet services in Vietnam, must … obtain business permits to operate, maintain a local representative agency, and the server which manages Vietnamese users’ data shall be stored within the national territory of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”.
Article 48 further provides, all personal information and important data concerning national security shall be stored within the national territory of Vietnam. In the event that someone wants to transfer such information overseas, then a security assessment shall be performed according to the related governmental agencies’ requirements.
These rules and regulations have caused many Vietnamese concerns, that Google, Facebook, other social media platforms, email providers, and cloud computing service providers will soon pack up and leave Vietnam’s market.
Surprisingly, Article 37 of the Chinese version also provides for similar regulations as the two above-mentioned Draft Law’s articles.
As recent as this past June, tech giant Apple had to cooperate with a Chinese corporation to invest in a database center to comply with this specific provision. Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon had complied as well.
5. Forcing users and providers to act as informants
If the Draft Law gets passed into law, Internet users, telecom and Internet providers must cooperate thoroughly with the government.
Article 45 requires those who engage in activities using cyberspace must strictly comply with the government’s guidelines and shall allow the government to enforce their cybersecurity’s measures and safeguards.
Moreover, all service providers must work with the government to provide actual identities of those Internet users, while at the same time, shall have the responsibility to fend off all information which is deemed to be detrimental to the State, according to Articles 46 and 47.
Again, we find the same regulating language in China’s Cybersecurity Law. This time is located at Article 28, which demands that “network operators shall provide technical support and assistance to public security organs’ and state security organs; lawful activities preserving national security and investigating crimes”.
6. Forcing tech companies to follow government’s technical standards
Article 46 mandates all businesses involved in the production and putting in commerce digital products, as well as providing Internet services, shall be in accordance with the provisions of laws and with the “mandatory quality assurance of State standards”, before releasing their products to the market.
The State also shall pass laws which set the standards for the hardware and software to be used with the above-mentioned technical measures, as well as make sure that the applicable entities shall comply.
This provision also serves as the legal basis for the State to enact the necessary decrees and orders, regulating the specificity of the technical measures mentioned and how to enforce such measures.
Compare to China, the Chinese government had required all new computers to be pre-installed with the automatic content-control software – Green Dam – and also forced businesses, including Google, to have this software installed on all their computers.
The fact that the Vietnamese government had become increasingly more and more interfering with the technical measures regarding the high-tech market highlights the fact that it has opened the doors for corruption and abuse of power from the MPS, the Ministry of Defense (MOD), Ministry of Science and Technology, and other related governmental agencies.
7. Forcing all entities that have relations with “critical information” to be evaluated by the State when buying hardware and software.
Articles 11, 16, and 48 of the Draft Law gives the MPS, the MOD, and other State’s agencies, the authority to review equipment, networks products, and services which may be related to the national critical data system before they could be put into use or upgrade.
This is similar to Article 35 of China’s Cybersecurity Law.
Accordingly, this regulation means that any governmental agency or private business – who maintains an information system which related to energy, national finance, banking, transportation, chemicals, medicine, natural resources and environment, media, news and publishing, shall go through the MPS and/or the MOD when purchasing the necessary hardware, software, Internet service provider for their operation.
It probably makes sense to see this regulation being applied to government’s agencies, but the fact that it is stepping into fields such as banking, medicine, news, and publishing, raises questions about the State’s ambition in controlling information in society at large.
These regulations would grant the police and military the all-access key to both government’s agencies’ and private businesses’ hardware and software. This would be an opportunity for them to exert pressure on other agencies, businesses, as well as putting the whole society at risk for corruption and abuse of power.
The above were only seven strikingly obvious similarities between the Vietnam’s Draft Law and China’s Cybersecurity Law. With an in-depth reading of both documents, one probably finds, even though smaller, much more alike features.
This article is translated into English by Tran Vi from the article “Dự luật An ninh mạng: Hàng Việt Nam ‘Made in China’?“ that was published on Luat Khoa magazine on November 4th, 2017.
The 88 Project: Bringing the silent voices of Vietnam to a larger audience
As a Vietnamese overseas student working on her Ph.D. at Indiana University’s School of Law, Huong Nguyen was focused on her academic career but couldn’t stop thinking about the activist community she was involved with in Vietnam.
This explains why she frequently reached out to students and gave presentations around campus, one of which was the student chapter of Amnesty International.
It was there that she met Kaylee Uland, a blonde, blue-eyed undergraduate whose life growing up in Indiana was far removed from Vietnam and the communist government’s litany of human rights violations that she heard from Huong that day.
“This was one of my first exposures to learning about political prisoners, and it gnawed at me learning that some people were in prison solely because of expressing their political or religious beliefs or a blog post,” Kaylee responded in an email.
Fired up by Huong’s talk, Kaylee began to dedicate herself to advocacy efforts alongside Huong, conducting public outreach efforts on campus and letter-writing campaigns. Around the same time, Huong connected with Ella Gancarz, a filmmaker who wanted to create a documentary about human rights in Vietnam. At the junction of these partnerships, The 88 Project was conceived in 2012.
The group takes its name from Article 88, one of the provisions of the 1999 Criminal Code traditionally used to prosecute activists. The 88 Project’s logo is a pair of handcuffs, which also represents the number ‘88’. According to their website, “the slightly open handcuff in our logo symbolizes the fact that not even prison bars can hold back the ideas of hope, human rights, and democracy.”
Over the years, the members have volunteered and worked part-time, on top of their full-time jobs, to put together a weekly newsletter reporting and analyzing the news.
“I believe that regardless of how busy we are if we care enough about something, we can make time for it,” Huong responded in an email. “I am grateful that our team members care enough about our mission to dedicate the time for the project despite their busy career and personal life.”
Kaylee, who is now research director, was the driving force behind the recent expansion of their Database of Persecuted Activists in Vietnam, which now has functions that make it easier for users to navigate. The team has also unveiled the Map of Human Rights Violations.
“We wanted to allow users to interact with the data in multiple ways, depending on their needs and learning style,” Kaylee said.
Although Kaylee doesn’t speak Vietnamese, she is proud to be part of a team that provides an up-to-date English-based source of news on human rights issues, political prisoners, and activists at risk in Vietnam.
“One of our largest challenges has always been gathering, verifying, and processing data from inside Vietnam,” she said. With Huong’s network and Vietnamese language skills, the 88 Project has maintained a strong backbone of research integrity through carefully vetting the information that goes into their news, database, and map. The group also takes security precautions to protect their sources, in-country contributors, and data.
Online activity is heavily monitored and independent media does not exist in Vietnam. According to the 2019 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders, Vietnam sits at #176 out of 180 countries in terms of freedom of the press, one notch higher than China but one below Sudan.
Despite the challenges facing human rights defenders in Vietnam, the 88 Project finds success in big and small ways, such as when its work is used to advocate for the release of prisoners or when the nonprofit organization is cited in news and journal articles.
“There can be a lot of bad news before you get to hear any good news,” Kaylee said in an audio recording with Memria and the Norwegian Human Rights Fund. “But as a privileged person, as a white, educated, female American, the least I can do is to try to use my voice in some way to bring the very powerful and strong, but unfortunately, silenced voices of human rights defenders working on the front lines to a larger audience.”
Linh Nguyen is a contributor to The Vietnamese. Linh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @LinhVietnam4.
Vietnam: Lawyer Disbarred For Speaking Ill Of Regime and The Communist Party
“I have lost my license to practice law forever, with no apparent recourse available,” Vo An Don, one of Vietnam’s most well-known lawyers in recent years, lamented on Facebook on April 9, 2019. Last week, a high court in Danang ruled that the minister of justice’s decision to affirm his disbarment in 2018 remained effective and final.
The 42-year-old lawyer from Phu Yen province, however, is widely recognized for his fierce advocacy. In the past five years, Don took on cases involving some of the more popular political dissidents, such as blogger Mother Mushroom. But he gained the most public attention when he represented the family of Ngo Thanh Kieu, a man who died while in custody after being beaten by the police in 2014. Don had demonstrated tireless efforts in bringing those who committed police brutality to justice in Kieu’s case. Yet on November 26, 2017, he was disciplined by his provincial bar association, and his bar license was taken away. In April 2019, the People’s High Court in Danang sided with the disciplinary decision and let the decision stayed.
According to Tuoi Tre newspaper, the reason for the disciplinary action was because of Don’s “abuse of democratic freedoms to write and to give interviews to foreign press and broadcasters to defame lawyers, the prosecutorial bodies, the (Communist) Party and the State of Vietnam with the intent to incite, propagandize, and misrepresent the truth which had negatively affected the reputation of the Party, the State, the prosecutorial bodies, and other Vietnamese lawyers.”
The Phu Yen Provincial Bar Association’s decision to disbar him came only a few days before the appeal trial of Mother Mushroom, which was on November 30, 2017. Don stated at the time in an interview with BBC-Vietnamese that such a decision was probably politically motivated.
It was not the first time, however, that his local bar association had attempted to discipline Vo An Don. In another interview with RFA in 2014, Don already disclosed that the Phu Yen Provincial Bar Association had tried, unsuccessfully, to disbar him a few times during his representation of the family of Ngo Thanh Kieu. But Don was unfazed and continued with the case, successfully bringing the offending officers to justice.
The case of Ngo Thanh Kieu was probably the first one in recent years where the court convicted a group of police officers for causing death to a suspect in custody. Public opinion, however, was split about the sentences handed down to the former police. Some people thought that the jail terms were too light as the longest one was only a five-year-imprisonment. At the same time, many people also saw Vo An Don as the lawyer who fought for the people’s rights and stood against what they perceived as a corrupt system.
The unintended popularity could be the root of the troubles that later followed the lawyer, who practiced law in one of the poorest areas in Vietnam. Don is often dubbed the “farmer lawyer” in social media because he still has to continue farming to support his family. Practicing law in an honest way, he said, cost him opportunities to “get rich” because he refused to be part of the widespread corruption in Vietnam’s judiciary. His popularity and his candid words about the profession together made him an unpopular person among his fellow attorneys. His allegation of corruption among lawyers was one of the statements that cost him his bar license, as reported by The Law newspaper in Ho Chi Minh City on May 24, 2018.
After the Phu Yen Provincial Bar Association issued its disciplinary decision on November 26, 2017, Vo An Don petitioned the Vietnam Bar Federation in December 2017 for a review. Over 100 Vietnamese lawyers signed a petition asking the Federation to stand by its member’s freedom of expression and stated that the disciplinary action would be a dangerous precedent for the law profession. The Federation still rejected his petition on May 21, 2018.
Don continued to appeal his case with the Ministry of Justice later last year, but the minister of justice also decided against him.
Finally, in December 2018, Don initiated a lawsuit against the administrative decision to uphold the disciplinary action by the minister of justice. But as stated, the court system also did not side with him and effectively allowed the disbarment to remain in effect. The high court in Danang agreed that the dismissal of Don’s case by a lower court was proper.
Both courts had reasoned that the minister of justice’s decision to uphold the disbarment was done within a professional and social organization – the Vietnam Bar Federation. Such a decision did not fall under the categories of subject matters that could be decided in a lawsuit against an administrative order.
At this time, even Vo An Don does not seem to think that there could be any other recourse for him. In the meantime, Don’s case has raised sufficient concerns about the freedom of expression of lawyers in Vietnam and whether their human rights will continue to be subjected to professional disciplinary actions.
Online Campaign “If not NOW then WHEN?” Seeks To Stop Sexual Abuse In Vietnam
An uncommonly successful online campaign is happening in Vietnam with thousands of signatures and with momentum is still going strong. The campaign – “If not NOW then WHEN?” – initiated by seven civil society groups and organizations on Change.org, is the Vietnamese people’s latest and loudest response to a series of highly publicized cases of sexual abuse and violence against women and children uncovered recently in the country.
In addition to signing this petition, hundreds of Facebookers also changed their avatars to include a frame with the slogan “If not NOW then WHEN?” and the hashtag #nhanpham200k (dignity200k) to promote this campaign.
The “200k” hashtag refers to the 200,000 VND amount that the Hanoi police has fined the perpetrator in a recent sexual assault case in March 2019. Although the perpetrator was captured on an elevator’s security cameras while assaulting a woman by kissing her on the mouth, the authorities decided to treat the case as an administrative violation and did not file charges against him. Such a decision has angered the entire nation that has watched the story where his criminal actions unfold on social media, leading some activists and organizations to decide to take action.
The “If not NOW then WHEN?” campaign was launched within a few days after the administrative fine of 200,000 VND was made public. And because the organizers want to stress that a person’s dignity is worth more than the 200,000 VND fine, they have included the hashtag #nhanpham200.
Citing loopholes in the law which allow for unjust decisions such as the 200,000 VND case, the campaign calls on citizens to demand Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan and other members of Vietnam’s National Assembly to take action and change the laws. Their goal is to appeal to the legislative branch to make changes in the Penal Code so that it would be more effective in both punishing the perpetrators in sexual harassment and sexual violence cases and preventing future sexual crimes.
According to Facebooker Ngoc Diep, one of the first activists who has initiated this campaign, the campaigners will collect signatures until early May 2019. Then, they will send them directly to the National Assembly before the beginning of their next congressional meeting – which is expected to commence on May 20, 2019.
By April 9, 2019, more than 13,000 people have signed the petition even though Change.org recently has been blocked in a few areas in Vietnam. It means that those who have signed the petition from Vietnam must take an extra step, which is to get over the firewall before they can add their names to the petition.
It also means that the demands contained within the petition are of great concern for a lot of Vietnamese people.
Why is there such a tremendous response from the public to this petition that led to so many people taking the time and making an effort to make a point about this issue?
Ngoc Diep explained that the campaign has identified with the people’s realization that there are loopholes in the law, which renders the system ineffective in bringing justice to the victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse in the country.
Recently, several cases of sexual attacks on women and children have caused outrage in society, and yet the legal system was unable to bring the perpetrator to justice. The case in the elevator with the 200,000 VND fine was just one of many such cases.
In another case, a teacher was accused of inappropriately touching his fifth-grade students, but the authorities claimed that his conduct did not fall under the current definition of sexual abuse. The teacher went unpunished.
A suspect in a brutal beating and raping of a 9-year-old girl was allowed bail because the authorities found his conduct did not fall under the “extremely severe” category that would demand pre-trial detention.
Just a few days after the petition “If not NOW then WHEN?” had started, another video clip appeared on social media showing a toddler being grabbed and kissed by an older male stranger in an elevator in Ho Chi Minh City.
The campaign and its supporters have felt an even stronger sense of urgency now, that such change is not only needed but is also inevitable. They want to raise public awareness about sexual harassment and sexual abuse and demand that “the legitimate rights and interests of the people” be protected.
As such, they are hoping that more signatures will be added to the petition in the upcoming days. It is hoped that the increasing public pressure that comes with the petition will then force lawmakers to face this current social crisis of sexual harassment and sexual abuse and institute changes.
Among the demands, the campaign emphasizes the critical role of civil society organizations in raising community awareness, as well as preventing sexual crimes.
The campaigners are especially concerned with the lack of specific and coherent definitions for a variety of conduct that would constitute sexual harassment in the current Penal Code. They also pointed out that the law should also provide for better protection mechanisms for victims of sexual abuse and violent sexual crimes.
The Penal Code is not the only one that needs changes, according to these activists. The Civil Code also needs to be reformed with the guidelines for victims to receive restitution being improved.
The 88 Project: Bringing the silent voices of Vietnam to a larger audience
Imprisoned Dissident – Anh Ba Sam – Encountered Odd Events Before Release Date
Vietnam: Lawyer Disbarred For Speaking Ill Of Regime and The Communist Party
Exploring Tam Dao National Park, Group Of Vietnamese Youths Robbed And Beaten By Unknown Men
Online Campaign “If not NOW then WHEN?” Seeks To Stop Sexual Abuse In Vietnam
Vietnam Accused “Hostile Forces” Of “Abusing” Ba Vang Pagoda Story. What Is Ba Vang?
Sick And Injured Inmates In Vietnam Face Inadequate Medical Treatment, Torture
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam: The Country That Rejects Political Pluralism
Vietnam: State-Owned People’s Army Newspaper Defamed Independent Media, Civil Society Organizations
Vietnam Will Soon Follow China’s Social Credit System?
News1 year ago
Vietnam, A Step Closer to Democracy With The Latest Nationwide Protests?
Human Rights2 years ago
Timeline: The Formosa Environmental Disaster
Opinion-Section2 years ago
“Piss on Trump” Opens Up Much Needed Debates on Individual Rights Among Vietnamese
Human Rights1 year ago
Will #MeToo finally have its break in Vietnam?
Human Rights1 year ago
From Nguyễn Văn Đài’s April 5, 2018 Trial – What Constitutes “Overthrowing the People’s Government” in Vietnam?
Opinion-Section1 year ago
North / South
Freedom of expression1 year ago
“Minds” over Facebook: Vietnamese Netizens’ Great Cyber Exodus?
Free Press1 year ago
Phạm Đoan Trang – The Humming Guitar Before Rainstorm Falls