HANOï – Google is taking steps to set up an office in Vietnam to comply with a new law, Hanoi said Tuesday, as the communist country prepares to enact a controversial cyber bill that critics say is aimed at silencing dissent.
The cybersecurity law, which mirrors China’s repressive web regulations, will come into effect on Jan. 1 and in its current draft will require internet companies to host local servers and offices in the single-party state.
It will also require firms like Google and Facebook to remove “toxic content” and hand over user data when requested by the government — clauses activists say are designed to scrub out online criticism.
Internet companies have largely been silent on the incoming law — criticized by the U.S., the EU and the U.N. — though Google’s vice president for global affairs reportedly said his company was taking steps to open a local office, according to a report on Vietnam’s government website on Tuesday.
“Google is currently looking at steps to open representative office in Vietnam,” the report said after Google’s Kent Walker met with deputy prime minister Vuong Dinh Hue.
The requirement in the cybersecurity law to open offices in Vietnam and host servers has been among the bill’s most controversial articles.
Google has offices throughout Asia-Pacific, including its regional headquarters in Singapore, but not in Vietnam. The company did not reply to AFP’s request for comment on Tuesday.
Vietnam has already asked Google to remove more than 6,700 items since 2009, according to the tech giant’s latest transparency report.
The majority of requests were lodged last year citing content listed as “government criticism,” and Google has removed more than 3,000 videos, the report added, without providing a time-line.
Vietnam has long come under fire for jailing activists critical of the government, many of whom use social media as a crucial platform to voice discontent.
All independent media is banned in the country and protests of any kind are not allowed.
The government announced last year it had deployed a 10,000-strong cyber task force to monitor online posts and in October said it had set up an office capable of screening millions of news items per day.
Activists have told AFP that their critical posts have been trolled by pro-government commentators, and several dissidents have had their accounts temporarily blocked.