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Vietnam Pressures Tech Companies to Expose Sensitive User Information

The Vietnamese government’s new cybersecurity law, slated to take effect on January 1, 2019, greatly endangers the last remnants of free speech and press in the country. The communist government has long controlled all the news outlets in the country through its Ministry of Information and Communications, but many journalists and citizen activists have utilized social media platforms to share uncensored news in Vietnam.

The cybersecurity law will cut off this last route of uncensored media by forcing tech companies, such as Facebook and Google, to store their Vietnamese users’ data in Vietnam and remove any media content that the Vietnamese government deems "dangerous.” Compelling Facebook and Google to keep local data centers in Vietnam, allows the government to more easily access private user information and possibly puts data center employees at risk of arrest.

This law has meet with resistance from U.S. legislators and human rights organizations around the world. 17 U.S. Members of Congress have sent a letter to Facebook and Google, urging them “to live up to your stated missions to promote openness and connectivity.” The Members of Congress were especially concerned with Facebook and Google’s compliance with Vietnam’s request to remove content and accounts of users in California and Germany.

Google and Facebook's priority should be to protect their users’ data and we join the 17 Members of Congress and ask for these companies to adopt these four policies:

“1) Refrain from storing user data within Vietnam if doing so means that it can be improperly seized at any time by the Ministry of Public Security.

2) Establish transparent guidelines with respect to content removal. While we understand the need to have clear community standards, it is not acceptable to take down political speech or the content of citizen journalists simply because the Vietnamese authorities or the army of government-backed “public opinion shapers” have urged you to do so.

3) Promptly publish the number of requests from the Government of Vietnam for the removal of content and the number of times your company complied with such requests.

4) Promptly and confidentially share with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Department of State all requests for user data from the Vietnamese authorities and indicate which ones you complied with so we can assess who is being targeted and why.”

This new law threatens the last stream of media that does not have to go through the censorship of the Communist Party and Facebook and Google have the power to make a difference in this fight for freedom of information. The decision for Zuckerberg and Pichai now is if they will cave or use their platforms to stand for the rights of the people of Vietnam.

(Link to the full Congressional Letter to Facebook and Google:

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