Vietnam to regulate internet cafés

Ho Chi Minh City, August 15:

Vietnam is doing everything it can to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) this year but at the same time its communist government is doing its best to restrict cyber cafés — the main window to the rest of the world for ordinary citizens. No less than four ministries; public security (MS), posts and telecom (MPT), culture and information (MCI), and planning and investment (MPI) — have joined hands to ‘’regulate and standardise the fledgeling and troublesome Internet cafes business’’. Yet, while conformists and officialdom are one in welcoming new restrictions imposed last month as an effective method of combating ‘evil schemes’, radicals and free thinkers see in them attempts to put more barriers on free access to cyberspace.

Since logging into the World Wide Web in 1997, communist Vietnam has been supervising access to the global information highway. A decree affirms the government’s determination to ‘’manage and control Internet in Vietnam as well as services of this network, manage gateways to abroad to be able to link with Internet; control the content of information on Internet’’. But the increasing number of Internet users, including those who patronise the popular cyber cafes, has made the government’s efforts to control access to web content cumbersome. Last year, the Vietnam Internet Centre reported that the number of internet subscribers had jumped from 823,000 in 2003 to more than two million.

Alongside, the number of web surfers at Internet cafes have doubled and now represent for 7.35 per cent of the country’s population of 83 million people. Following the introduction of broadband (ADSL) services, Internet cafes have become affordable places for young, impressionable people to communicate with the outside world. ‘’Teenagers are the main customers of these netcafes. What are they doing there? They usually play games, chat, write e- mail; but rarely research (study),’’ complained MCI deputy minister Do Quy Doan.

Police seem ready to back up the idea that some ‘bad eggs’ are taking advantage of lax controls to download or upload ‘illegal content’ from nude pictures of famous artistes to anti-government documents. “Up to 90 per cent of young people have viewed pornographic sites, while 26 out of 28 supervised cafes had evidence of sex sites on their computers,’’ reported Nguyen Van, head of a posts and telecom office investigating team.