Is Vietnam at a crossroads between cyber security and right to privacy?
According to a Financial Times article, Vietnam cyber security law is set to restrict Facebook and Google in their nation. Unfortunately, the obvious outcome is that this new cyber security law stands to hurt investors’ confidence and stunt the growth of Vietnam’s digital economy.
What’s more concerning is that the regulation will require Vietnamese data to be stored within the country and allow the government full access as part of their security measures.
Same story, different times
First of all, in the US, there has been a much more robust government surveillance system in place under its Patriot Act, in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attack and the anthrax attack. The internet and Big Data-related businesses expanded, while the general masses in the US lived under their government’s active and heavy-handed surveillance.
Vietnam is an independent country and its legislatures have the right to get a better understanding of their citizen’s data in order to protect their national interests. So, what is the issue then?
It is an issue because, in this case, if any party gets to have possession over a citizen’s data it would be Vietnam’s government. If the government missuses that data against their own people, it would be their responsibility to make amends and follow the democratic process.
And rest assured, it won’t be Facebook or Google who have to face the consequences.
It is shocking that while we are in the process of discovering to what extent Facebook user data was used to manipulate the US elections back in 2016, a reputed news network (Financial Times) is taking a stance against the Vietnam government, who is simply exercising its right to protect their citizens from any possible manipulation.
Europe has an extensive cyber security policy -- and both Facebook and Google are currently negotiating with the EU to settle the damage they have dealt. If Vietnam wants to offer a similar cyber security certification scheme as the EU has, the country must first make sure that user data is secure.
Follow the law
Currently, multi-national tech companies such as Facebook and Google have begun operating in Vietnam from regional hubs such as Singapore and Hong Kong, possibly storing their data in places unknown to users and to Vietnam’s regulators.
The new regulation will require these companies, who will continue to operate in Vietnam, to open offices in Vietnam and abide by the laws of the land (including storing data in their soil and to hand over any required access to government authorities).
In my opinion, this will bring more jobs to Vietnam and stronger commitment from investors which would help stabilize growth for the country. A couple of the biggest challenges which warm-weather countries face in terms of data storage is the high ambient temperatures and comparatively low electricity supply -- two factors which greatly hinder the establishment of cloud storage facilities.
To that end, recently, Microsoft found a possible solution to that problem by moving its cloud servers underwater.
Vietnam, and other countries in a similar situation, could now consider such solutions for server placement and allow home-grown internet businesses to flourish more autonomously. I welcome this new regulation which I believe will actually render additional businesses and services free from possible manipulation.
Mazher Mir is a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley, USA.