The cyber unit, named Force 47, is already in operation in several sectors, Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted Lieutenant-General Nguyen Trong Nghia, deputy head of the military's political department, as saying at a conference of the Central Propaganda Department on Monday (Dec 25) in the commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City.

"In every hour, minute, and second, we must be ready to fight proactively against the wrong views," the paper quoted the general as saying.

Communist-ruled Vietnam has stepped up attempts to tame the Internet, calling for closer watch over social networks and for the removal of content that it deems offensive, but there has been little sign of it silencing criticism when the companies providing the platforms are global.

Its neighbour China, in contrast, allows only local Internet companies operating under strict rules.

The number of staff compares with the 6,000 reportedly employed by North Korea. However, the general's comments suggest its force may be focused largely on domestic Internet users, whereas North Korea is internationally focused because the Internet is not available to the public at large.

In August, Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang said the country needed to pay greater attention to controlling "news sites and blogs with bad and dangerous content".

Vietnam, one of the top 10 countries for Facebook users by numbers, has also drafted an Internet security Bill asking for local placement of Facebook and Google servers, but the Bill has been the subject of heated debate at the National Assembly and is still pending assembly approval.

Cyber security firm FireEye Inc said Vietnam had "built up considerable cyber espionage capabilities in a region with relatively weak defences".

"Vietnam is certainly not alone. FireEye has observed a proliferation in offensive capabilities... This proliferation has implications for many parties, including governments, journalists, activists and even multinational firms," a spokesman for FireEye, who requested anonymity, told Reuters.

"Cyber espionage is increasingly attractive to nation states, in part because it can provide access to a significant amount of information with a modest investment, plausible deniability and limited risk," he added.

Vietnam denies such charges.

The country has in recent months stepped up measures to silence critics. A court last month jailed a blogger for seven years for "conducting propaganda against the state".

In a separate, similar case last month, a court upheld a 10-year jail sentence for a prominent blogger.

Reuters - December 26, 2017


Vietnam army hires censors to fight 'internet chaos'

he Vietnamese military has built up a force of more than 10,000 internet censors, according to local reports.

A People's Army leader is quoted as having said that the "cyber-troops" had been tasked with tackling "wrongful views" and anti-state propaganda.

Vietnam has a high rate of social media use but also a reputation for restricting freedom of speech.

In recent years, several bloggers have been jailed for publishing articles critical of the Communist state.

The latest revelation has led to comparisons with China, although Vietnam has been more willing to allow western tech firms to operate locally.

Criticism crackdown

Lieutenant General Nguyen Trong Nghia - deputy head of the military's political department - is reported to have announced the existence of Force 47 at a speech in Hanoi on Christmas Day.

He is said to have declared that 62.7% of the Vietnam's population of more than 90 million citizens now had access to the net, but added: "Such a strong growth rate does both good and harm to the country."

Vietnam enforces a ban on independent political parties and human rights organisations.

In 2013, it introduced a law banning the public from discussing current affairs online, ordering that the use of social media and blogs was restricted to sharing personal information.

Despite this, the country ranks among Facebook's top 10 biggest markets, with about 52 million active users, as of August.

YouTube and Twitter are also popular in the nation.

Earlier this year, a draft cyber-security law was published that proposed popular tech companies would have to host local users' records within data servers based within its borders.

However, it was reported at the time that the proposal might clash with Vietnam's commitments to the World Trade Organisation.

Jailed bloggers

The announcement about the censors preceded a court ruling in which 15 people were jailed for plotting to bomb the country's biggest airport.

The government's official news site said the accused had been directed by an overseas group that had used social media to recruit them and to spread propaganda.

Campaign groups have, however, criticised other arrests for internet-related dissent.

In November, Reporters Without Borders protested against the jailing of a 22-year-old blogger for disseminating "reactionary propaganda" via Facebook.

The group said the main reason for Nguyen Van Hoa's seven year sentence had been his coverage of a toxic spill from a steel plant that had poisoned millions of fish.

It has also drawn attention to Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a blogger nicknamed Mother Mushroom, who was imprisoned for 10 years in June for criticising the handling of the same incident.

Human Rights Watch had previously reported that the number of bloggers and activists known to have been convicted and sentenced to prison in Vietnam had roughly tripled from 2015 to 2016, to at least 19 people.

BBC News - December 27, 2017