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Vietnam: Controversial Internet Decree in Effect

(Sept. 6, 2013) The Vietnamese government adopted the Decree on Management, Provision, and Use of Internet Services and Information Content Online (Decree 72/2013-ND-CP) on July 15, 2013; it became effective on September 1, 2013. (English translation of the Decree, Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade website (July 15, 2013) [scroll down page to file attachment].) The Decree has been criticized as censoring the Internet. (Peter Shadbolt, Rights Groups Take Aim at Vietnam’s New Internet Laws, CNN (Sept. 2, 2013).)

Under the Decree, use of the Internet is subject to restrictions that vary depending on the purpose or effect of the use. The Decree prohibits use of Internet services and online information to oppose the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; threaten the national security, social order, and safety; sabotage the “national fraternity”; arouse animosity among races and religions; or contradict national traditions, among other acts. (Decree 72/2013-ND-CP, art. 5.)

The Decree classifies websites into five different types: (1) electronic newspapers in the form of websites, (2) general information websites, (3) internal information websites, (4) personal websites, and (5) specialized websites. Personal websites cannot provide general information. (Id. art. 20.) “General information is information collected from multiple sources about politics, economics, culture, or society.” (Id. art. 3, item 19.) The Decree limits blogs and social websites to exchanging “personal information,” which is explained in the CNN article as original material generated by the users. (Shadbolt, supra.)

Foreign organizations, enterprises, and individuals that provide public information across the border that is accessed by Vietnamese people or through people in Vietnam must comply with Vietnam’s law, the Decree states. (Id. art. 22.) One Hanoi-based law firm commented, “[a]ccording to some Vietnamese newspapers, this new provision would hopefully help control such organizations as Facebook, Google and other foreign suppliers of cross border public information, as they actually are not at all regulated in Vietnam.” (New Decree No. 72-2013/ND-CP on Management, Supply and Use of Internet Services and Network Information, D&N INTERNATIONAL (Aug. 31, 2013).)

The United States Embassy in Vietnam issued a statement on August 6, 2013, that expressed concern about “the decree’s provisions that appear to limit the types of information individuals can share via personal social media accounts and on websites.” (Statement: Internet Content Decree, Embassy of the United States, Hanoi, Vietnam (Aug. 6, 2013).) The Freedom Online Coalition also released a statement expressing its concern, as the Decree “impose(s) further restrictions on the way the Internet is accessed and used in Vietnam.” (Press Release, Marie Harf, U.S. Department of State, Freedom Online Coalition Joint Statement on the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s Decree 72 (Aug. 26, 2013).)