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March 29, 2024

From Decree to Law: Vietnam Indicates Move on Personal Data Protection

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) is drafting two reports to present to the government in May 2024 to advocate for the development and adoption of a Law on Personal Data Protection. These reports include an assessment of the policy impact of the proposal to develop a personal data protection law, and an assessment of the current state of social relations related to personal data protection.

Decree No. 13/2023/ND-CP on Personal Data Protection (PDPD), adopted in April 2023, became the first comprehensive legal instrument on data protection in Vietnam. When the National Assembly was debating its text and adoption in 2022 and 2023, questions were raised as to the status of this new regulation and the legality to adopt a decree before a law. In accordance with the public announcements made throughout the development of the PDPD assuring that a law would be developed at a later stage, the MPS is now advocating for the development of a Personal Data Protection Law and has drafted the two reports pursuant to the Law on the Promulgation of Legal Documents.

The main arguments advanced by the MPS in the two reports are as follows:

  • As the right to privacy is enshrined in the Constitution, any restrictions thereof must be made through a law and not a decree. The MPS is notably referring to the lawful basis for processing and limited exceptions to consent under the PDPD. This may be a sign that the MPS intends to widen the exceptions to consent under the new law.
  • The definitions of “personal data” and “personal data protection” need to be harmonized to consolidate the regulatory framework. The MPS indicates that there are 69 legal documents directly related to “personal data protection” in Vietnam with more than 10 different definitions, while “personal information” appears in more than 300 legal instruments, although only 7 include a definition.
  • There is a need to harmonize Vietnam’s data protection regime with international practice and regulations on personal data protection to protect the country’s market attractiveness and competition. This argument had been made a number of times by the private sector when consulted on the PDPD.
  • The necessity to adopt sanctions of an adequate level to deter the widespread practice of selling or disclosing personal data without regard for individuals’ privacy in Vietnam is pressing. The MPS reports that in 2019 and 2020, it discovered hundreds of cases of illegal sale of personal data, amounting to nearly 1,300 gigabytes of illegally traded personal data, including sensitive personal data.

In light of the recent news on the first investigation into personal data protection compliance, the message of the MPS is clear: They will be active in continuing to develop a personal data protection legal framework and a privacy culture in Vietnam. The MPS reports also highlight the need to raise the awareness of data subjects and data handlers (companies acting as controller, processor, and third party, but also civil servants and public employees) and to better protect the rights and interests of Vietnamese citizens. The move toward a new Personal Data Protection Law is the next natural step to achieve their aim and perhaps to fix the implementation issues faced by the PDPD.

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