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ABN # 65 648 097 123
Background Briefing: Vietnam: Draft Decree on Internet Imposes New Controls Carlyle A. Thayer April 17, 2012
[client name deleted] 1. Regarding the new draft decree on the internet in Vietnam: is this a move to censor the internet? Do you think it is likely to pass? ANSWER: The draft Decree is another step in tightening the vise of censorship and control of the Internet in Vietnam by the Ministry of Information and Communications. It is now being circulated for public comment. There may be sight amendments but my assessment is that it will be promulgated relatively unchanged in June. 2. What do you make of it? ANSWER: The draft Decree is an attempt to catch up with evolving technology. The Decree represents new restrictions not so much in substance but in kind. It sets out detailed measures that individuals, commercial firms and service providers much comply with. Individuals would also be forced to reveal their real names if they use pseudonyms. Article 7 of the draft Decree is key. It repeats previous myriad restrictions embodied in Vietnamese laws and Government decrees and repackages them to tie these restrictions directly to the use of the Internet (i.e., electronic transmission) by individual customers, organizations, service providers and government agencies. 3. What do you think as prompted the government to act now? ANSWER: There are three reasons which may explain the release of this draft Decree. First, this draft Decree is the latest evolution in Internet restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Information and Communications. Vietnamese government officials do not want to loose their ability to control information and public expression. This draft Decree is an attempt to keep up with the times. Second, the draft Decree is prompted by concern over the use of the Internet by political activists, social commentators, and bloggers who have freely expressed their views. One main concern is the linkage between domestic commentary and foreign policy. As tensions with China over the South China Sea have prompted Vietnam to step up strategic and defence cooperation with the United States. Vietnam and the United States are negotiating an agreement on strategic partnership. This year, if past protocol of exchanging visits by defense ministers every three years is observed,
2 Secretary Leon Panetta should be visiting Hanoi. No doubt the U.S. elections in November have added pressure to reach agreement and host a visit sooner rather than later. Some party ultra‐conservatives are leery about “peaceful evolution” and its impact on domestic politics as well as relations with China. The draft Decree would tighten the screw on internal dissidents and severely restrict their activities by making them as well as commercial service providers responsible for material broadcast or stored on the Internet. Third, the draft Decree has no doubt been drawn up with an eye on Trans‐Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations with the United States. In this sense it may be viewed as a pre‐emptive move to get a Decree on the books before TPP negotiations are finalized. The draft Decree aims to assert control over foreign enterprises providing Internet services to Vietnam even to the extent of requiring them to open representative offices in Vietnam. Foreign companies would be forced under this Decree to co‐ operate in censorship by installing firewalls and other monitoring technology, report violations of Article 7 to Government authorities, and disclose information on customers. Foreign companies would be required to provide the name of their officers who have responsibility for applying this Decree in their daily operations. In other word, by requiring representative offices to be set up in Vietnam, Vietnamese security authorities would be able to gain physical access to these individuals and apprehend them if necessary. 4. It is expected that another piece of legislation requiring pay‐TV channels to provide Vietnamese subtitles will come into effect in May. Is the government getting tighter on newa media? If so, again why now? ANSWER: There are two aspects of requiring pay‐TV channels to provide Vietnamese subtitles. The first is cultural‐ideological and relates to the party’s view of Vietnamese national identity. Approved foreign films with Vietnamese subtitles would be more accessible to a wider audience. Second, this requirement is also designed as a trade barrier to protect Vietnam’s domestic TV‐movie industry and to add costs to the importation of foreign language material. When Vietnam first announced doi moi the then party secretary general warned that if you opened the windows flies and mosquitoes would fly in. The same applies today. Vietnam’s eleventh party congress set the goal of “proactively integration” with the global economy. This means that the ultra conservative guardians of Vietnamese ideology and culture must redouble their efforts to insulate Vietnam from foreign negative phenomena.
ABN # 65 648 097 123
Background Briefing: Vietnam’s Draft Decree on Internet Management Carlyle A. Thayer April 17, 2012
[client name deleted] 1. To what degree does this decree appear to just put in black and white a lost of existing restrictions? For example, Article 7 lays out a host of prohibitions of Internet content, but I’m not sure whether these really represent new restrictions. Article 14 talks about creating a national “Internet transit station,” and I’m curious to know whether this is something that already exists. ANSWER: Article 7 repeats previous restrictions embodied in various Vietnamese laws and Government decrees [see excerpts below]. It also repackages them to tie these restrictions directly to the use of the Internet (i.e., electronic transmission) by individual customers, organizations, service providers and government agencies. In other words, the Decree is an attempt to catch up with evolving technology. The Decree represents new restrictions not so much in substance but in kind ‐ setting out detailed measures that commercial firms and service providers much comply with. Individuals would also be forced to reveal their real names if they use pseudonyms. Regarding Article 14 and its reference to the National Internet Transit Station. Vietnam: Vietnam first formed a VNIX in Hanoi in November 2003 and a second VNIX in Ho Chi Minh City in March 2004. Article 14 is mainly focused on commerce and revenue earning for Government authorities. 2. What might his decree mean for the on‐going Trans‐Pacific Partnership trade talks, in which the U.S. is trying to create new standards of he “free flow” of data? Does this appear to signal that Vietnam is plainly against this approach? ANSWER: This draft Decree has no doubt been drafted with an eye on TPP negotiations with the United States. It aims to assert control over foreign enterprises providing a variety of Internet services to Vietnam even to the extent of requiring them to open representative offices in Vietnam. Foreign companies would be forced under this Decree to co‐operate in censorship by installing firewalls and other monitoring technology, report violations of Article 7 to Government authorities, and disclose information on customers. Foreign companies would be required to provide the name of their officers who have responsibility for applying this Decree in their daily operations. In other word, by requiring representative offices to be set up in Vietnam, Vietnamese security authorities would be able to gain physical access to these individuals and apprehend them if necessary.
2 The draft Decree has provisions that would enable Vietnam to crackdown more on Internet piracy, a concern to those promoting the TPP. On the other hand, and more significantly, the Decree contains provisions that definitely would impede the “free flow” of data and thus are barrier to trade. In 2010, on the fifteenth anniversary of U.S.‐Vietnam diplomatic relations, I wrote, “Four issues need resolution: the easing of restriction on access to the Internet, the conclusion of a bilateral investment treaty, approval for an increase in staff working at the U.S. Embassy, and raising educational cooperation to permit American universities to operate in Vietnam.” There were approximately 200 American universities that had signed various memoranda of understanding on educational cooperation with their Vietnamese counterparts. Very few of these MOUs were implemented. One common threat was Vietnam’s refusal to loosen up restrictions on the Internet so American students studying in Vietnam could have unfettered access the Internet. 3. Were you aware that this draft Decree was coming down the pipeline, or has this been expected for some time? And do you have any sense of why this is coming up at this particular juncture? ANSWER: I was not aware that this Decree was coming down the pipeline but I am not surprised. I have been writing for some time that Vietnam is intent on tightening up controls over the Internet. Why has the decree appeared at this moment in time? Let me speculate. There are possible four reasons which may explain the release of this draft Decree. First, this draft Decree is the latest evolution in Internet restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Information and Communications. Vietnamese government officials do not want to lose their ability to control information and public expression. This draft Decree is an attempt to keep up with the times and restrict activity not adequately covered by earlier legislation and decree. Second, the draft Decree is prompted by concern over the use of the Internet by political activists, social commentators, and bloggers who have freely expressed their views. One main concern is the linkage between domestic commentary and foreign policy. As tensions with China over the South China Sea have risen this has prompted Vietnam to step up strategic and defence cooperation with the United States. Vietnam and the United States are negotiating an agreement on strategic partnership. This year, if past protocol of exchanging visits by defense ministers every three years is observed, Secretary Leon Panetta should be visiting Hanoi. No doubt the U.S. elections in November have added pressure to reach agreement on a strategic partnership and host a visit by Secretary Panetta sooner rather than later. Some party ultra‐conservatives are leery about “peaceful evolution” and its impact on domestic politics as well as relations with China. The draft Decree would tighten the screw on internal dissidents and severely restrict their activities by making them as well as commercial service providers responsible for material broadcast or stored on the Internet. Third, the draft Decree has no doubt been drawn up with an eye on Trans‐Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations with the United States. In this sense it may be viewed
3 as a pre‐emptive move to get a Decree on the books before TPP negotiations are finalized. And fourth, the draft Decree may have appeared as a result of internal bureaucratic processes in accord with some previously agreed work schedule All of the above or any combination may explain the appearance of the Decree at this time. BACKGROUND The following is an excerpt from my The Apparatus of Authoritarian Rule in Viet Nam, SEARC Working Paper Series No. 118, Hong Kong: Southeast Asia Research Centre, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, City University of Hong Kong, January 2012: When the Internet was first introduced in Viet Nam government authorities set up firewalls to prevent access to sites they considered politically subversive. These included sites maintained by overseas Vietnamese anti‐communist groups, international human rights organizations and international news outlets such as the Vietnamese language services of Radio Free Asia (RFA) and the Voice of America (VOA). The restrictions on VOA were relaxed in 2009 but remain in place for RFA. In late December 2009, these firewalls were extended to include the Vietnamese service of the BBC and Facebook. The Ministry of Public Security and General Directorate II regularly monitor telephones, facsimile transmissions, post, e‐mail, Internet and mobile phones. Members of Bloc 8406 have attempted to evade detection by utilizing digital telephone and encryption technology on websites provided by Voice Over Internet Protocol providers such as PalTalk, Skype and Yahoo!Messenger to organize chat room discussions within Viet Nam as well as overseas. In 2008‐09, Vietnamese officials faced a growing challenge to their authority ‐ political commentary on the Internet written by bloggers who had no discernable connections to the pro‐democracy movement (Duy Hoang, Cuong Nguyen and Angelina Huynh 2009). For example, in early 2009 a group of seven hundred individuals signed up to a Facebook site to promote their opposition to bauxite mining (Bauxite bashers, The Economist, April 23, 2009). Other environmental activists founded an extremely popular website devoted to the bauxite mining controversy. A number of independent bloggers also appeared and attracted popular interest in their blogs. Leaders of the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) were placed in the uncomfortable position of having to defend their handling of Viet Nam’s relations with China from criticism by nationalist‐minded patriotic citizens including members of the political elite. The regime responded by cracking down on its critics and moved to curtail blogging on the Internet. In May 2010, Lt. Gen Vu Hai Trieu, Deputy Director of General Directorate II, announced to a press conference that his department had ‘destroyed 300 bad internet web pages and individual blogs’ (quoted in Human Rights Watch Asia 2010b).
4 Government critics charged that GD II had come under Beijing’s political influence and was using its sophisticated electronic equipment to identify ‘anti‐China activists’ (Crispin 2009). In 2010, a series of Denial of Service Attacks on Thong Luan, a political commentary website, and Dong Chua Cuu The Viet Nam, a Catholic website, were traced to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses belonging to Viettel, a company owned by the Ministry of National Defence (Human Rights Watch Asia 2010b). It is likely that specialists units within the MPS were also involved in the unprecedented cyber attacks directed against independent blog sites starting in September 2009 and intensifying in April‐May 2010. During this period cyber attacks were launched against more than two dozen websites and blogs maintained by Catholics (on land issues), political discussion forums, opposition political groups and environmentalists (bauxite mining). Hackers invaded the Osin blog site in January 2010 and posted fabricated messages stating that the owner, journalist Huy Duc, was retiring because he ‘ran out of new ideas’ (Viet Than 2010). A fabricated note also appeared on DCVOnline, a news and discussion site, announcing the site’s closure due to internal conflict. Hackers accessed the discussion forum x‐cafevn.org’s database and posted the login names, email, location and IP addresses of over 19,000 users on the web. Fabricated profiles of administrators and activists associated with x‐cafevn.org were posted on www.x‐ cafenv.db.info. In sum, ‘[t]he objective was to make the web community believe that Hanoi’s intelligence agents working with hackers could obtain dossiers on virtually any Vietnamese activist or internet user’ (Viet Than 2010). Independent investigations by Google and McAfee, a major internet security company, determined that the majority of command and control servers involved in the cyber attacks were executed through IP addresses inside Viet Nam. McAfee’s chief technical officer, George Kurtz, concluded ‘we believe that the perpetrators may have political motivations and may have some allegiance to the government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam… This is likely the latest example of hacktivism and politically motivated cyber attacks’ (Human Rights Watch 2010b, emphasis in original). The Google and McAfee, investigations determined that the cyber attacks used ‘botnet’ malware (W32/Vulvanbot) disguised as Vietnamese language software VPSKeys to invade blog sites, gather information on users, and then direct massive denial‐of‐service attacks against offending websites and overseas Vietnamese computer users who accessed these sites. Neel Mehta, a member of Google’s security team, concluded that the cyber attacks were directed ‘against blogs containing messages of political dissent. Specifically, these attacks have tried to squelch opposition to bauxite mining efforts in Viet Nam;’ (Human Rights Watch 2010b, emphasis in original). Indeed, in December 2009‐January 2010 Distributed Denial of Service attacks caused the website bauxiteViet Nam.info to crash. Ministry of Culture and Information The Ministry of Culture and Information has been one of the most proactive institutions in promulgating regulations to counter the use of the Internet by so‐ called cyber dissidents and politically active individuals and groups. For example, the government issued Decree 55/2001, ND‐CP on Internet Management and Use
5 (August 23, 2001). This decree imposes stringent controls over the Internet including onerous requirements on cyber café owners to report breaches of the law. A subsequent regulation issued in August 2005 made it illegal to use Internet resources to oppose the state; destabilize security, the economy or social order; infringe the rights of organisations and individuals, and interfere with the state’s Domain Name System servers. A study by OpenNet Initiative in 2006 of Viet Nam’s efforts to control Internet usage discovered that the Ministry of Public Service gave priority to blocking access to websites that contained information related to Viet Nam’s 1999 land border treaty with China and other political commentary. The Ministry of Culture and Information has responded to the use of the Internet by cyber dissidents by requiring government officials to enforce stricter controls. In mid‐2007, for example, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City were required to suppress the dissemination of anti‐government materials on the Internet by ‘hostile forces’. At the same time restrictions were imposed limiting access to satellite television. In August 2007, the Ministry of Culture and Information commenced inspections of Internet access points in Hanoi, Hai Phong, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho to ensure compliance. On August 3, 2007, the Directorate General of Posts and Telecommunications directed provincial authorities to strengthen inspection and control of public Internet cafes and warned that severe punishments would be meted out to violators who downloaded and spread ‘poisonous and harmful’ information. Government ministries and agencies were asked to compile a list of all banned Internet sites and services. On August 7, 2007, the Ministry of Culture and Information temporarily closed a popular Hanoi website launched by VVT Innovative Solutions Co. Ltd. VVT was charged with permitting the publication of articles with ‘inaccurate information’ that violated the Press Law and Government Decree No. 55. Authorities took particular exception to material on the web forum that criticized the government for reportedly making concessions to China during negotiations on the 1999 border treaty and material that discussed corruption in the VCP’s relations with the United States, and demands for political change. In 2007, following its inspection of Internet access sites in 61 provinces and cities, the Ministry of Culture and Information took steps to reinforce firewalls to block material deemed subversive and harmful to national security. The Ministry directed Viet Nam’s only Internet gateway, Viet Nam Data Communications Co., to block websites based on a list to be drawn up and regularly updated by the Ministry of Public Security. At the same time, the Ministry of Culture and Information issued regulations requiring Internet café owners to obtain special licenses requiring checks into their family, professional and financial backgrounds. The Ministry also announced that Internet service providers would be held responsible for blocking anti‐government web sites. Internet service providers were also required to obtain photo IDs and monitor and store information on the online activities of users. On October 10, 2007, the Ministry of Culture and Information issued a Decision requiring all businesses to obtain a license before setting up a new website. Under the Ministry’s Decision, Internet content providers were only allowed to distribute
6 information for which they had been licensed and were required to keep detailed records of contact information. Internet content providers were also forbidden from posting information that incited people against the government or caused hostility between different ethnic groups. In 2007, Viet Nam identified nearly 2,000 subversive Internet sites, including Thong Luan, Han Nam Quan, Con Ong, Con Vit, Vietbaoonline and Ky Con. The Viet Nam Data Corporation has responsibility for manually filtering these sites. Further Internet restrictions were imposed in 2008. On 28th August the Prime Minister issued Decree No. 97 making it illegal to abuse the internet to oppose the government, disclosing national secrets, and providing distorted information. In December, the Ministry of Culture and Information issued Information Circular No. 7 mandating that bloggers restrict their postings to personal matters and proscribing material that touched on politics, matters considered state secrets, subversive or a threat to social order and national security. In November 2008, security officials moved more aggressively to interfere with if not shut down Facebook sites where anti‐bauxite mining blogs had been set up (Stocking 2009). In this respect they were mimicking China where authorities blocked Facebook in July, and subsequently imposed restrictions on Twitter and YouTube. The state also responded to Catholic land protests by blocking Catholic websites. Most recently, on April 26, 2010, the People’s Committee of Hanoi issued Decision No. 15/2010/QD‐UBND requiring the installation of Internet Service Retailers Management Software (or ‘Green Dam’) in all computers used by Internet cafés, hotels, restaurants, airport, bus stations and other locations providing access to the Web by the end of the year. This software will allow the government to track user activities and block access to websites. Under Decision 15, internet users in Hanoi are prohibited from doing anything online to oppose the government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam; endanger national security, stability, public safety; disrupt the unity and harmony of the people; propagate war; create hatred, conflicts between minority groups, religious groups; provoke violence, pornography, crimes, social unrest, stereotypes; impair cultural values; or call for illegal demonstrations, boycotts, unlawful gatherings for grievances and complaints . Groups Targeted for Repression Harassment of Bloggers. Over the seven‐month period from November 2009 to May 2010, Viet Nam detained four independent bloggers and subjected them to extended interrogations. In 2009, journalist Huy Duc blogged under the pseudonym ‘Osin’ and wrote commentary about human rights in the Soviet Union. He was fired from his job with Saigon Thiep Thi (Saigon Marketing) newspaper as a result of pressure from security officials. Bui Thanh Hieu, who blogged under the name ‘Nguoi Buon Gio’ (Wind Trader or Wind Merchant), posted commentary critical of Viet Nam’s handling of relations with China, Catholic land disputes and bauxite mining. Hieu was repeatedly interrogated by police in 2008‐09 for his role in instigating anti‐ China protests and arrested in August (Stocking 2009).
7 Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who blogged under the name ‘Me Nam’ (Mamma/Mother Mushroom), also posted blogs that discussed relations with China, bauxite mining and territorial disputes in the South China Sea. She was questioned by police for her involvement in printing t‐shirts with the slogan ‘No Bauxite, No China; Spratlys and Paracels belong to Viet Nam’ (Stocking 2009). And finally, blogger Pham Doan Trang was detained under provisions of Viet Nam’s national security law for her postings on the South China Sea, the 1954 partitioning of Viet Nam, and China’s role as a hegemonic power (Deutsche Presse Agentur, August 31, 2009). She was later released when police concluded that she was not linked to any political dissident network. For her part, Trang stated she had learned to discuss only personal matters on the internet and vowed to steer clear of political topics.
ABN # 65 648 097 123
Background Briefing: Vietnam’s Draft Decree on Internet Management Follow Up Carlyle A. Thayer May 6, 2012
Background: Extract from Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing, April 17, 2012: “There were approximately 200 American universities that had signed various memoranda of understanding on educational cooperation with their Vietnamese counterparts. Very few of these MOUs were implemented. One common threa[d] was Vietnam’s refusal to loosen up restrictions on the Internet so American students studying in Vietnam could have unfettered access the Internet [emphasis added].” [client name deleted] We have a query regarding your recent briefing on the proposed Internet decree (http://www.scribd.com/doc/89937585/Thayer‐Vietnam‐s‐Draft‐Decree‐on‐ Internet‐Management). We are interested in this apparent impasse in implementing Memoranda of Understanding between American Universities and their Vietnamese counterparts, and we request if you would explain how and why you think Vietnam's Internet controls are holding up the MOU implementation process. An administrator at an American university states Vietnam's Internet controls are not a big factor in holding up the process. Would you kindly clarify your point re: these MOUs? ANSWER: On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the US and Vietnam in July 2010 I was asked to write an article for the Asia Pacific Bulletin for the East‐West Center Washington office. In my last paragraph I identified major challenges to relations to the bilateral relations between the United States and Vietnam. I noted that some party conservatives viewed educational exchanges as part of the plot of peaceful evolution. I noted that restrictions on the use of the Internet were an issue. And I noted that Vietnam was lagging in giving permission for American universities to operate in Vietnam. At that time there were around 200 MOUs on the record that had not been acted on. All of this predates the current internet decree. I am sure there are more issues than just access to the Internet that are impeding educational cooperation. There was evidence that some universities were concerned that American students studying in Vietnam would be disadvantaged by internet restrictions and wanted them lifted. I think the point I would make is that the conservative argument about peaceful evolution is linked to control over the Internet. Any American push to lift restrictions
2 would be viewed by conservatives as further evidence that the US is seeking to overturn socialism in Vietnam and that educational cooperation is one of the major means (the Peace Corps has also been condemned in similar terms). [client name deleted May 3]: We are interested to know if any American universities have singled out Internet controls as the primary barrier to establishing educational programs in Vietnam. Can you provide the names of any such schools, if you have that information on file. ANSWER: I have reviewed the Vietnam‐United States Relations 2010 files I used to write the article for the Asia Pacific Bulletin and cannot find a single American university on record as singling out internet controls as the primary barrier to establishing educational programs in Vietnam. I have anecdotal evidence that access to the internet has been raised in discussions but in reviewing my files cannot find any hard evidence that this is "a" or "the" major concern. The reverse is the case. Vietnam is foot dragging on its own internal educational reforms and moving very slowly to permit American (and other foreign) universities to enter the educational market place in large numbers. The slowness in implementing MOUs is most likely a feature of Vietnamese bureaucratic inertia. I say "most likely" because the data I have is only general. One important element is that some party conservative ideologues really believe that the US is pursuing the "plot of peaceful evolution" and link their concerns to (a) US promotion of human rights (b) US government pressure to loosen up on internet controls and (c) US universities and Peace Corps. This no doubt makes consensus decision‐making difficult on agreeing to implement so many MOUs. In retrospect, I should have re‐worded the sentence " One common threat [should read thread] was Vietnam’s refusal to loosen up restrictions on the Internet so American students studying in Vietnam could have unfettered access the Internet" to: "One common thread was concerns by Vietnamese party conservatives about the impact of increased numbers of American students studying in Vietnam using the internet to access information that Vietnamese authorities prefer to restrict and spreading ideas of political pluralism and democracy amongst Vietnamese students." But, as noted above, the main impediment to implementing the two hundred MOUs lies with Vietnam's bureaucracy.
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