Thu, Jan 10, 2019 - Page 10 News List

Vietnam hits Facebook with new law

REPRIMAND:Firms are required to take down ‘toxic content’ and hand over data when requested, but Facebook has been accused of delaying and not removing information

AFP, HANOI

Vietnam has accused Facebook Inc of contravening a new cybersecurity law by refusing to scrub anti-government content from its site, the first reprimand since the controversial bill came into effect days ago.

The law, which came into force on Tuesday last week and has drawn criticism from the US, the EU and Web freedom groups, requires Internet companies to remove “toxic content” and hand over user data when requested by authorities.

It also stipulates that companies should host servers in the one-party state — including banks and e-commerce companies — sparking fears of data and privacy breaches, and cybersecurity threats.

State broadcaster Vietnam Television (VTV) yesterday reported that Facebook failed to take down pages allegedly calling for anti-government activities, citing requests from the Vietnamese Ministry of Information and Communications.

The ministry sent several letters and e-mails requesting the removals, the report said.

However, Facebook “delayed and even failed to remove information, claiming the information did not breach community standards,” VTV reported.

Vietnam also accused the company of hosting advertisements for “illegal products,” including counterfeit money, fake goods, weapons and firecrackers, the report said.

The ministry could not be reached for comment.

The consequences for contravening the law are expected to be laid out in a decree that has yet to be made public.

Vietnam has said the bill is designed to improve cybersecurity in the country, but critics say the legislation — which mirrors China’s draconian Internet rules — is aimed at silencing online dissent.

In a statement, Facebook said it is “transparent about the content restrictions we make pursuant with local law in our Transparency Report.”

“We have a clear process for governments to report illegal content to us, and we review all these requests against our terms of service and local law,” a spokeswoman said.

Social media is a crucial platform for activists in communist Vietnam, where all independent press and public protests are banned.

Facebook is by far the most popular tool for activists, though several have complained in recent months that posts have disappeared and accounts have been blocked.

Unlike in China, social media and instant messaging services such as WhatsApp are not banned, and analysts say the cybersecurity law is a means to control online expression without banning services — a move that would likely cause a widespread outcry.

There are more than 53 million Facebook users in Vietnam — more than half of the population — many of whom use the site as a crucial platform for business and commerce.

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