U.S. lawmakers warn Google, Facebook about Vietnam cyber law

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(Bloomberg) -- U.S. lawmakers urged Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. not to comply with a Vietnam cybersecurity law that requires storing domestic users’ data in the country, if doing so allows the government to "improperly" seize the information.

The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, also requires foreign internet companies to open local offices and bans the use of social networks to organize anti-state activities, spread false information or create difficulties for authorities.

“This broad and vaguely worded law would allow the communist authorities to access private data, spy on users, and further restrict the limited online speech freedoms enjoyed by Vietnamese citizens,” 17 bipartisan members of Congress said in a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg. A similar letter from senators is expected.

The measure passed last month has drawn rare dissent from some lawmakers, government leaders and tech groups in the Southeast Asian nation, who sent a petition to the legislature cautioning it would hurt the economy. Demonstrators have protested nationwide against the bill, saying it would limit free speech.

The letter urged Google and Facebook to raise the issue "at the highest levels" if Vietnam coerces them into aiding censorship, calling reports that the firms have complied in removing video and accounts “troubling." They also asked that U.S. lawmakers and the State Department be told of requests for user data so they can "assess who is being targeted and why."

Representatives of Google and Facebook, as well as Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comments.

The law is “hurting the country’s reputation as a good place for the world to do business in,” Jeff Paine, managing director of the Asia Internet Coalition, which represents Facebook and Google, said in a statement.

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