Vietnam’s relationship with the internet has always been a dicey one; the country has gone through various stages of censorship regulations over the years. But judging from news on November 20 from a reporter in the country, the situation could be worsening. The report of a potential Twitter blockage marks yet another notch against the Vietnamese approach to communications technology. The possibility of Twitter’s blockage in Vietnam reflects a larger tenuous situation for the internet in the country — one that has only gotten worse over the last few months.
September 1 marked the enactment of Decree 72 — a policy put into law that requires foreign internet companies to have at least one server each within Vietnam’s borders, which naturally hampers most household-name networks like Google and Yahoo. (Nota bene: Brazil has attempted to implement similar legislation — although it has hit roadblocks — in the wake of the U.S. NSA revelations about international data collection.) Decree 72 also bans discussion of news items across blogs and social media. While countries with open internet policies naturally view this legislation as restriction of freedom of speech, Vietnam’s government says it is meant to encourage “self-censorship”.
The government also aimed to create policy in August to block VoIP applications such as Viber, Whatsapp, and Skype claiming that the country loses massive revenue from users avoiding traditional call and text charges from in-state wireless carriers. Even if that is true, blocking foreign messaging apps has political intent written all over it.
And sometimes the government puts such intent into practice, most recently with the detention of a blogger who aired pro-democracy leanings online. Nguyen Lan Thang then published a video to his Facebook page in late October detailing his detainment. It was not the first time, and probably won’t be the last that the country imprisons folks for their digital opinions.
Vietnam’s continually restrictive web policies mirror China’s, but even China has come around in certain ways — easing its hostility towards foreign app companies while encouraging its homegrown enterprises. While anyone in Vietnam who is tech savvy enough can change their DNS to skirt the Twitter blockade, the general promise of access to social and communications technologies is looking dim.