Internet Filtering in Vietnam in 2005-2006: A Country Study
July 31, 2006
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam regulates access to the Internet by its citizens extensively, through both technical and legal means. This study by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) finds that the Vietnamese state attempts to block citizens from accessing political and religious material deemed to be subversive along various axes. The technical sophistication, breadth, and effectiveness of Vietnam's filtering are increasing with time, and are augmented by an ever-expanding set of legal regulations and prohibitions that govern on-line activity. Vietnam purports to prevent access to Internet sites primarily to safeguard against obscene or sexually explicit content. However, the state's actual motives are far more pragmatic: while it does not block any of the pornographic sites ONI tested, it filters a significant fraction - in some cases, the great majority - of sites with politically or religiously sensitive material that could undermine Vietnam's one-party system. Vietnam's Internet infrastructure and market are dynamic and fast-changing, but it seems inescapable that the state's on-line information control will deepen and grow.
Vietnam focuses particular effort on blocking access to sites related to topics that challenge the state's political orthodoxy, such as those treating political dissidents, political democracy, or the proposed Vietnam Human Rights Act in the United States Congress. Sites on topics related to domestic religious faiths, such as Buddhism and Caodai, are also subject to blocking, though less extensively. In nearly all cases, sites in the Vietnamese language are far more likely to be blocked than sites in the English or French languages.
Like many states in Southeast Asia and in other regions of the world, Vietnam tries to leverage the Internet to provide economic development and benefit, while simultaneously struggling to limit access to content that might destabilize the Communist state. This tenuous balancing act finds its clearest expression in Vietnam's 2001 decree on management, provision, and use of Internet resources, which requires that Internet "management capacity must be in line with development requirements, while at the same time consistent measure must be taken to prevent abuse of the Internet to affect the national security and break national virtues and traditional good customs" to achieve the "national cause of industrialization and modernization." Among other methods, the state monitors the use of cybercafés and employs filtering of Internet content to control the information its citizens can access online.
Vietnam's Internet filtering regime demonstrates an ongoing struggle between the desire to increase Internet usage for economic purposes and the desire to limit its effects politically, and between the capabilities of filtering technology and the limitations of bandwidth, ISP resources, and users' tolerance. This system, more than any other that ONI has studied, shows dramatic change over time and bears careful monitoring of its development.