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Cablegate: Vietnam's Tighter Grip On the Internet

DE RUEHHM #1144/01 2790725
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E.O. 12958: N/A


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1. (SBU) Summary: The Party and the GVN have introduced new
legal and technical measures to strengthen controls over the
Internet. Much of the focus is centered on bolstering
firewalls, preventing search engines from displaying unwanted
content and centralizing Internet monitoring in Vietnam's
state-controlled internet service providers. The arrests in
HCMC of American citizen political activist Do Cong Thanh and
six other Vietnamese activists indicate that police have the
ability to target the dissident community in the south even as
dissidents harness new technologies to get out their message of
political change. End Summary.


2. (SBU) In his keynote speech during the April Party Congress,
Phan Dien, outgoing Standing Member of the Party Secretariat,
underscored the threat to Party rule from uncontrolled usage of
the Internet and the urgent need of the Party to respond. Two
months later, the National Assembly passed a new Information
Technology Law, which, among other issues, further regulates
Internet use. Article 12 prohibits "the provision, exchange,
storage and usage of electronic data to oppose the government,
sabotage "national unity," instigate violence, or foment racial

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3. (U) The new law holds Internet Service Providers and owners
of individual Internet kiosks accountable for customer
violations. Article 16 stipulates that internet kiosks "have
the responsibility, at requests of relevant agencies, to take
timely and necessary measures to prevent access to illegal
electronic contents." Article 19 requires that ISPs and
Internet kiosk owners stop providing Internet search tools that
provide access to illegal content.

4. (SBU) According to a contact in an HCMC-based ISP, a new
version of the Internet Regulation was sent to all ISPs in July,
requiring them to "provide physical space and to facilitate
technical support" for the Ministry of Public Security to carry
out missions of national security. The regulation requires ISPs
to immediately stop internet access to those who "abuse the
internet" to oppose the government.

Control Goes High-Tech

5. (SBU) According to HCMC press reports, in July, the Ministry
of Posts and Telematics (MPT) instructed all ISPs to install new
control and monitoring software in ISP-owned Internet kiosks.
The software is designed to record information on users and
their Internet behavior. The acquired data will be stored on
centralized servers in the ISPs' headquarters for at least one
year. Registration controls at Internet kiosks also were
stiffened. Thus far, two major ISPs -- state-owned Vietnam Data
Communication Company and military-owned VietTel -- have started
to install the required software in their Internet kiosks.
Other ISPs such as Saigon Postel and FPT reportedly also are
following suit.

6. (SBU) According to a contact at one of Vietnam's most
prominent telecom companies that owns and operates Vietnam's
internet backbone, at a typical Internet kiosk, an additional
gateway computer is set up between the Local Area Network (LAN)
and the Internet modem. This computer records the cyber
activity of any computer within the LAN; suspicious Internet
surfing is reported automatically back to a "policy server" at
the ISP level. This contact told us that these "policy servers"
update "blacklists" based on URL's and keywords, and are under
the control of "relevant government authorities."

7. (SBU) Thus far, only public Internet kiosks are required to
have these controls in place. Government and private business
and household Internet access are not yet covered. Contacts in
the industry told us that equipment at the ISP level can monitor
and identify individual home subscriber Internet usage
"violations." Dial-up connection phone numbers also can be
easily tracked. At least some home ADSL Internet subscribers
have their Internet usage monitored by newly installed software
and hardware systems.

Actual Compliance Still Lax

8. (SBU) An admittedly unscientific sampling at various Internet
kiosks in three provinces (HCMC, An Giang and Phu Yen) within
HCMC's consular district in September showed that compliance
with new access requirements remains lax. None of the kiosk
administrators asked us or local Vietnamese patrons for
identification, nor did we need a special username or password
from an ISP as specified in the regulations. Only a few kiosks

HO CHI MIN 00001144 002.2 OF 003

in HCMC displayed the new internet regulations on their walls.

Differing Degrees Filtering

9. (SBU) We also ran a series of firewall tests at four
different Internet kiosks in different districts in HCMC. One
was affiliated with FPT, one with Saigon Net and two with
VVN/Net Soft. The local and U.S. versions of "Google" were
available at all four locations. Search results at all four
locations showed the existence of major dissident websites as
well as Radio Free Asia, but the links were non-functional.
Only one service provider -- Net Soft -- gave access to the
Voice of America web site.

10. (SBU) Overall the FTP kiosk had the most robust Internet
controls. Results from keyword searches such as "democracy" and
"religious freedom" were blocked both in English and Vietnamese.
The Saigon Net-run kiosk was much more porous; it was possible
to pull up the website of the IBIB, the overseas arm of the
banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam.

11. (SBU) It was possible to pull up information on proxy
servers and how to break firewall restrictions at all four
locations. "Skype" was available at all four kiosks but
"PalTalk" was blocked on the FTP kiosk. Interestingly, it also
was possible to access overseas information at all four kiosks
on AmCit political activist Do Cong Thanh. This suggests that
firewall administrators had not yet updated the sites to block
information on Thanh, even though news about his controversial
arrest and subsequent expulsion from Vietnam was over a month

Government and Dissidents: Cat and Mouse

12. (SBU) Many dissident websites -- all hosted outside Vietnam
-- post instructions on how to bypass GVN firewalls and use
proxy servers to hide users' identities. The younger,
tech-savvy dissidents look for new techniques to avoid
monitoring and detection. Contacts in the dissident community
tell us that many now use "Skype" and other Voice Over Internet
Protocol tools to stay in touch with each other and with
overseas contacts. Dissidents believe that -- at least for the
moment -- it is hard for the police to identify and pinpoint
Skype users, and to record their conversations to be used as
"evidence" against them.

13. (SBU) HCMC-based political activist and founder of the "8406
Block" Do Nam Hai (aka Phuong Nam) told us that his home
Internet service has been cut at least three times since
December 2005. As a stopgap measure, Hai used Internet kiosks,
but faced highly intrusive police surveillance; in some cases,
plainclothes police often stood immediately behind him to read
his e-mail despite his frequent protests. Hai said that, in
response to these government efforts, he has begun to use a new
service provided by the ISP of Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) that
enables Internet access via cell phone to use Voice Over
Internet programs and to send e-mail.

14. (SBU) The Internet is a vital communications tool for the
banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). For example,
UBCV contacts tell us that many of the aides to UBCV leaders
Thich Quang Do and Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang are computer and
Internet literate and maintain their own Internet subscriptions.
Thich Thien Hanh, the senior-most UBCV leader in Hue, has
access to the Internet through a connection in one of the UBCV
pagodas in the city. Thich Vien Dinh, a member of the UBCV
national executive, has an active Internet connection at the
UBCV's Giac Hoa pagoda in HCMC. He told us that, in the past, a
dial-up connection rented from ISP provider VNPT was cut, but
subsequently he was able to secure an ADSL line through the
military-owned VietTel ISP. This connection has been untouched
since its inception. In late September, Thich Quang Do
reportedly obtained an Internet connection at his Thanh Minh Zen
Monastery where he lives under quasi "pagoda arrest." He
apparently registered the connection through a nun who also
resides at the Pagoda.

GVN Does Not Sit Idly By

15. (SBU) The MPS is responding. In August and September, MPS
officers arrested Do Cong Thanh, a computer specialist, and at
least six other Vietnamese-citizen activists of the People's
Democracy Party of Vietnam (PDP-VN). Like other dissident
groups, the PDP-VN used overseas-based servers to host websites
that exposed corruption and malfeasance within the GVN and
Communist Party and advocated for multi-party democracy and
peaceful political change. In an interview given in the United
States after his release and expulsion from Vietnam, Do

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concluded that the police's ability to intercept and read his
personal e-mails helped the authorities track him and his PDP
colleagues. Do and other PDP members used pseudonyms when
posting articles on the Internet.


16. (SBU) The Party is moving ahead to address "weaknesses" in
Internet controls identified during the Party Congress.
Although there is significant variation in the robustness of
Internet firewalls between the different ISPs that we sampled,
our sense is that the more restrictive access on the FTP site is
the harbinger of the future. Other, smaller ISPs will follow
FTP's lead in bolstering firewalls, preventing search engines
from displaying unwanted content and centralizing Internet
monitoring within Vietnam's ISPs. Moreover, the recent arrest
of the PDP activists and the earlier arrests of the "PalTalk"
group (Ref B) suggest that the MPS has at least some ability to
trace critical targets.

17. (SBU) The UBCV's current unmolested use of the Internet
suggests that the MPS -- for the moment -- finds it advisable to
try and monitor what the UBCV is saying to its overseas contacts
rather than forcing its leadership to communicate through
cut-outs. Meanwhile, the dissident community is trying to stay
one step ahead using new technological innovations (such as USB
microdrives) to transmit information and defeat Internet
controls in an attempt to reach Vietnam's rapidly growing
Internet-literate population. End comment.

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