Privacy is an interesting topic of discussion in Vietnam. It has been influenced by village culture, an important component of the Vietnamese cultural identity.
As Vietnam is primarily an agricultural country, people like to live next to each other in the same areas. Many generations live together in the same houses, while people with close relations live in the same village.
The communal character of the Vietnamese is also the product of the subsidization period, when everything was considered collective assets. The State then held pervasive power and had the right to intervene in all aspects of life, including the problems of all families and individuals. For example, one would have to report to ‘leaders’ about the person with whom they were in love.
When fixed telecommunications landlines appeared in Vietnam, a publishing house released telephone directory books. Each family got one book where they could find the names, addresses and telephone numbers of their families and other families as well.
At that time, people generally were happy even though their privacy was infringed upon.
However, with doi moi (renovation) and hoi nhap (integration), Vietnam has been influenced by a western lifestyle. Personal values, including privacy, are respected.
Laws and the reality
Vietnamese laws now have provisions to protect individuals’ privacy. The Constitution, Civil Code and Criminal Procedure Code were compiled by lawyers who studied in other countries, which explains why they included provisions that strongly protect privacy.
The Constitution says that everyone has an inviolable right to a private life, and that no one has the right to open, control or illegally seize other people’s mails, telephone calls, telegraphs or other forms of communication.
The Criminal Procedure Code stipulates that searches of residences, the examination and temporary seizure of mail, telephone calls, electronic data and other forms of communications must be implemented in accordance with the provisions of the code. This means that state agencies can see personal data only if they receive an official decision about prosecution.
However, recently, when drafting legal documents on e-commerce management, a state management agency attempted to set a regulation that e-commerce websites have to provide online tools to state management agencies so that the agencies can see their data at any time, not just when there is a sign of violation.
In other words, if officials want to find out how many dresses someone’s wife bought from Lazada last year, they just need to log in to the database.
|When drafting legal documents on e-commerce management, a state management agency attempted to set a regulation that e-commerce websites have to provide online tools to state management agencies so that the agencies can see their data at any time, not just when there is a sign of violation.|
Every time when salesgirls ask to give my phone numbers to make a customer card, I ask them: “Will the warranty policy be applied to products I buy today if I don’t give you my phone number?”
If the answer is ‘yes’, I will not give my telephone number. If the answer is ‘no’, I won’t buy the products.
There are many regulations about privacy protection, but they are not actually applied.
One day, I won a prize at a competition. The organization board showed my photograph and personal information on the website. I mailed the organization board and asked them to delete the information. The organization board refused to implement my request, saying that when I entered the competition, I signed an agreement which said the organization board has the right to use my photographs and personal information.
So citing some provisions of the laws, I said that even if I allowed them before to use my personal information before, I still have the right to ask to delete the information if I change my mind. And they still refused my request.
Finally, I told them that if they did not do what I requested, I would send a petition to appropriate agencies about their violating the law, for which they may be fined VND30 million. They agreed to remove the information.
One day, I heard a dialogue between the director of a Vietnamese business providing platform services and a lawyer. The lawyer was concerned that if he used the service provided by the firm, his information may be exposed to the public. “No worries,” the director replied, reassuring clients about information security.
Then the lawyer smiled and said: “What if a state management agency comes and asks you to show them my information?” The director only said: “Only when you do something wrong will you be scared.”
The lawyer said: “No. They are different categories – wrongdoing and privacy. I have enough body parts. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this. But I still don’t want people to see all of my body parts. As a Vietnamese, I want to use Vietnamese service. But I have decided to use foreign services because I think the services are better at information security. Sorry.”
The fact that state management agencies want the right to see the data of Vietnamese enterprises turns out to help enrich foreign companies and foreign platforms.
Privacy also is sometimes viewed as covering property rights.
Nguyen Minh Duc