Congressman Lowenthal and Colleagues Urge Google, Facebook CEOs Not To ‘Aid And Abet’ Vietnamese Government Censorship

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Washington, D.C., July 16, 2018 | comments
Following the recent passage of a law in Vietnam that severely curtails privacy rights of Vietnamese citizens, Congressman Alan Lowenthal joined with 16 of his House colleagues today to call on the heads of Google and Facebook to live up to their firms’ stated missions to promote openness and connectivity in Vietnam.

In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the Congress Members explain that the new cybersecurity law enacted by the Vietnamese government on June 12, 2018,  “contravenes existing trade provisions and international covenants of human rights.”

“This legislation is nothing more than a 21st century tool for the Vietnamese government to continue their ongoing crackdown on free expression and peaceful political advocacy by Vietnamese citizens,” Congressman Lowenthal said. “Worse, it makes technology companies like Facebook and Google accessories to the Vietnamese government by forcing them to remove content within 24 hours of notification by Vietnamese security agencies.”

The letter points out that both Google and Facebook have already “removed video and accounts after requests by the Vietnamese government, including accounts of users in California and Germany. The censorship of the accounts of Vietnamese-Americans is particularly concerning.”

The cybersecurity law comes at a time of increasing repression of the human and civil rights of Vietnamese citizens. There are more than I00 political and religious prisoners in Vietnam right now including citizen journalists, bloggers, religious leaders, and labor and democracy advocates. The Vietnamese government has a near-total control on the free flow of information. According to Reporters Without Borders' 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Vietnam ranks 175th out of 180 countries, and currently 25 professional and citizen journalists are behind bars.

The Congress Members are asking the technology CEOs to:

I) 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.
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.

The Congress Members conclude the letter by offering the diplomatic weight of the U.S. government to assist the firms if they are being coerced to aid and abet the Vietnamese censorship.

A companion Senate letter from Senators Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez was also sent to the CEOs on Tuesday.

To read the entire letter, click here.
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