On September 27, 2023, a collective of five international organizations expressed vehement condemnation for the arbitrary execution of Le Van
You Are Being Watched: What Happens To A Vietnamese Citizen’s Chip-Based ID Card In 2022?
By utilizing technology, the government is quietly building a system of control.
Whether or not Vietnamese citizens use their ID cards or hide them away, they can still be wholly controlled by the government.
In 2021, that group could be among the millions of Vietnamese people earnestly waiting to receive a chip-based ID card, which was initially advertised as making it easier to process their dealings or transactions with their government.
However, this is only a half-truth; the reality is that these chip-based ID cards will put them further under the control and surveillance of the State.
In March 2022, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, who was also the former head of the Ministry of Public Security's (MPS) General Department of Intelligence, urged all provinces and cities to urgently implement “[the] project to develop the application of population data, electronic identification, and authentication.” 
With the success of this endeavour, Vietnamese citizens will receive a new identification card which the government will be able to monitor and track their every move.
Electronic Identity: Second Citizen ID card
When they made the registration announcement in 2021, the government did not mention anything about electronic identification cards. Now, this electronic card will be a Vietnamese citizen’s second type of identification in 2022.
Their registration has helped the government create a database of personal information of the entire population. The authorities will ask them to register for an electronic identification account on their cellphones to do transactions.
Vietnamese citizens do not always have to use their ID cards, and inserting the cards into the physical readers for identity verification is only necessary during administrative procedures. However, electronic identification accounts on smartphones will be more commonly used.
In 2022, the government will start integrating citizens' documents into these electronic identity accounts. Almost all their personal information will be integrated into this account type, including driver’s license details, medical records, professional licenses, diplomas, cadre cards, civil servant cards, and the like. 
Incorporating this information will undoubtedly be convenient for the populace, and many people will likely use it. Hence, the Vietnamese government will be able to collect more information about citizens. Detailed information from every transaction a person does, such as purchasing a motorbike, a house, or transferring funds from one bank account to another, may be sent to the MPS, the national police.
Smartphones as Tools of Surveillance
Current e-ID accounts started to be issued under a government decision in November 2021.  However, the draft decree on Electronic Identification and Authentication of the MPS will replace this decision in 2022. 
An electronic identity account in the draft decree mentioned above will have the same value as a citizen's identity card. This account is registered directly with the police or via the VNEID app of the MPS.
The above draft does not contain provisions which allow users to control how much of their personal information is shared; they also do not know what kind of personal data has been provided to the authorities via their e-ID account. Nor do they have the right to allow or disallow government access to any of their data.
Vietnamese citizens should also worry about this type of electronic identity account when it is installed on their smartphones.
Verifying their identity via an e-ID account will most likely result in the app requesting permission to access the camera. In addition, smartphones are storage devices with abundant personal information, location tracking, video and voice recording, and internet connection. These gadgets make tracking people’s movements and accessing their personal information very simple.
In July 2021, Haaretz Newspaper in Israel reported that the Vietnamese MPS purchased a software program used to infiltrate people's smartphones from the technology company, Cellebrite.  It is also critical to note that Cellebrite's main clients are the governments of countries ruled by authoritarian regimes, such as Belarus, Russia, Venezuela, China, and Myanmar. 
Likewise, the Vietnamese government does not limit the applicability of e-ID accounts. According to a government decision on e-IDs, e-ID accounts may be used for any government request. 
Currently, e-IDs have been implemented in many countries. However, developed countries have applied decentralized identity technology to protect their citizens' privacy. This technology allows people to own all data on their smartphones, and this information will also be encrypted during any and all transactions. 
Meanwhile, the MPS will control all personal data centralized, allowing officials to access detailed information with a click.
Mass Surveillance of Citizens by AI Cameras and Constant Monitoring on Social Networks
In the future, Vietnam will fully integrate China’s facial recognition system into its mass surveillance network.
In September 2021, an Intelligent Operations Center (ICO) was established in Hoa Binh Province. This system has highly advanced surveillance capabilities, including a "live urban surveillance artificial intelligence camera.” This is a part of the state’s plan to build its e-Government and smart cities in Vietnam. 
The IOC is a popular model in some countries and has tangible benefits for communities. However, these centers can be used to monitor and control people for political purposes, especially in authoritarian regimes.
IOCs will be set up in all 63 provinces and cities in Vietnam. These centers are expected to help the government operate cities and form official decisions based on visual data. Citizens can also use this system to send information and report others’ violations to the government. However, the two notable functions of these centers are surveillance by AI cameras and information control on social networks.
The IOC in Thai Nguyen Province also has software to analyze and process image data such as "crowd detection, smoke and fire detection, crowd identification, [and] object tracking.” 
Dak Lak Province's IOC will launch an information monitoring service on social media in 2022, while Binh Duong Province also announced that it would establish a Security Operation Center (SOC) to monitor information on cyber security in 2022. 
A document on the design of the Dong Thap IOC indicates that three police officers will be appointed to the IOC of this province. The investment cost for the IOC is more than 24 billion Vietnam dong. The document also states that the center will apply highly advanced technologies such as deep learning, data mining, and artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze data. 
In Xinjiang, the Chinese Government has been using artificial intelligence technology to identify people through systems of iris-scanning, face and voice recognition through cameras, and DNA sample collection. This collected information is then linked to people's online activities, banking information, phone calls, and messages. These are used to identify behaviors that the government considers to be a threat to security. 
Canada's CBC reported that China's AI surveillance technology is being exported to 18 countries, including to some that suppress human rights.  Information regarding the origin and production of Vietnam's chip-based ID cards and the equipment used in the IOCs have not yet been published.
With similar political systems, disregard for human rights, lack of strict privacy regulations, and increasingly cheap and ubiquitous control technology, it is not difficult to imagine that Vietnam will slowly become another version of China.
Government Decisions Made Without Consultation or Discussion with its Citizens
For over a year, the Vietnamese government has been rushing to implement a system of control using technology, starting with chip-based citizen ID cards. Legal documents related to an individual’s personal data were also been urgently promulgated.
In 2021, the Government quietly approved an amendment to Decree 137/2015/ND-CP to provide detailed instructions on several articles and measures to implement the Law on Citizen Identity – an important legal document related to access to personal information. Amendments to this decree have given the local and commune police the power to access anyone’s personal data. 
At the end of 2022, Decree 137 will be amended once again to "stipulate the management, operation, and exploitation of the National Database on Population, according to simplified orders and procedures." These changes will make it easier for the government to mine and access your data. 
The government also suddenly enacted a decision on "regulations on electronic identification and authentication" in November 2021.  Little to no press coverage regarding the drafting of this law means citizens may be entirely unaware of its passing.
Likewise, the government's web portal did not inform the public that this decision was being drafted. These two incidents indicate that the decision was issued with haste and maybe with malice since it was not revealed to the public even though it directly affected the interests of citizens.
According to the government's plan, a series of circulars and decrees related to people's data, such as personal data protection, electronic identification, and personal data exploitation for parties, will be promulgated in 2022. 
The government defends its deployment of advanced surveillance technologies by citing the all too familiar reason for safeguarding national security. However, the state needs to disclose all essential details and create conditions for the public to discuss these issues, regardless of the truth or falsehood of the government’s claims. Regrettably, this has not happened.
And as can be expected, the Vietnamese state-owned press has not even mentioned the issue of privacy protection, despite the government’s deployment of advanced mass surveillance methods. This shows that Vietnam is on the verge of joining the club of authoritarian regimes that utilizes modern technology to monitor and control their populaces.
This article was first published in Luat Khoa Magazine on May 6, 2022. The English translation is done by Lee Nguyen.
1. Báo Điện tử Chính phủ. (2022, March 11). Khẩn trương triển khai Đề án phát triển ứng dụng dữ liệu về dân cư, định danh và xác thực điện tử. https://baochinhphu.vn/khan-truong-trien-khai-de-an-phat-trien-ung-dung-du-lieu-ve-dan-cu-dinh-danh-va-xac-thuc-dien-tu-102220311175910877.htm
2. Chính phủ. (2022, January 6). Quyết định số 06/QĐ-TTg của Thủ tướng Chính phủ: Phê duyệt Đề án phát triển ứng dụng dữ liệu về dân cư, định danh và xác thực điện tử phục vụ chuyển đổi số quốc gia giai đoạn 2022–2025, tầm nhìn đến năm 2030. Thư Viện Pháp Luật. https://thuvienphapluat.vn/van-ban/Cong-nghe-thong-tin/Quyet-dinh-06-QD-TTg-2022-De-an-phat-trien-ung-dung-du-lieu-ve-dan-cu-2022-2025-499726.aspx
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5. Haaretz. (2021, July 15). What Vietnam Is Doing With Israeli Phone-hacking Tech. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/tech-news/.premium-what-vietnam-is-doing-with-israel-s-phone-hacking-tech-1.10003831
6. Signal. (2021, April 21). Exploiting vulnerabilities in Cellebrite UFED and Physical Analyzer from an app’s perspective. https://signal.org/blog/cellebrite-vulnerabilities/
7. Ibid .
8. Luật Khoa. (2021, October 20). 3 vấn đề lớn về thẻ căn cước gắn chip và dữ liệu cá nhân mà Bộ Công an còn nợ câu trả lời. https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/10/3-van-de-lon-ve-the-can-cuoc-gan-chip-va-du-lieu-ca-nhan-ma-bo-cong-an-con-no-cau-tra-loi/
9. Cổng thông tin điện tử chính phủ. (2021, September 28). Khai trương Trung tâm giám sát, điều hành đô thị thông minh tỉnh Hòa Bình. https://web.archive.org/web/20220415073303/http://egov.chinhphu.vn/khai-truong-trung-tam-giam-sat-dieu-hanh-do-thi-thong-minh-tinh-hoa-binh-a-NewsDetails-37886-14-186.html
10. UBND tỉnh Thái Nguyên. (2021, December 10). Hoàn thành các hạng mục IOC đảm bảo tiến độ đề ra. Web Archive. https://web.archive.org/web/20220419093327/https://sonnvptnt.thainguyen.gov.vn/web/guest/cong-nghe/-/asset_publisher/L0n17VJXU23O/content/hoan-thanh-cac-hang-muc-ioc-am-bao-tien-o-e-ra/pop_up%3F_101_INSTANCE_L0n17VJXU23O_viewMode%3Dprint&_101_INSTANCE_L0n17VJXU23O_languageId%3Dvi_VN
11. Trung tâm IOC : “Bộ não số” cho đô thị thông minh. (2021, August 26). Web Archive. https://web.archive.org/web/20220418135159/https://daklak.gov.vn/-/trung-tam-ioc-bo-nao-so-cho-o-thi-thong-minh
12. UBND tỉnh Bình Dương. (2022, March 16). Triển khai Trung tâm điều hành thông minh (IOC) tại các thành phố và thị xã trên địa bàn tỉnh trong năm 2022. Web Archive. https://web.archive.org/web/20220418141518/https://www.binhduong.gov.vn/thong-tin-tuyen-truyen/2022/03/162-trien-khai-trung-tam-dieu-hanh-thong-minh-ioc-tai-cac-thanh-pho-va-thi-xa-tren-dia-ban-tinh-trong-nam-202
13. UBND tỉnh Đồng Tháp. (2021, December). Đề án thành lập Trung tâm điều hành thông minh tỉnh Đồng Tháp. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/21634465-ioc-dong-thap
14. CBC. (2021). In Xinjiang, China, surveillance technology is used to help the state control its citizens. https://www.cbc.ca/passionateeye/features/in-xinjiang-china-surveillance-technology-is-used-to-help-the-state-control
15. Ibid 
16. Luật Khoa. (2021a, June 5). Chính phủ âm thầm sửa nghị định về dữ liệu công dân: Đây là những gì bạn cần biết. https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/06/chinh-phu-am-tham-sua-nghi-dinh-ve-du-lieu-cong-dan-day-la-nhung-gi-ban-can-biet/
17. Ibid .
18. Ibid .
19. Ibid .