Former Vietnamese political prisoners and relatives of prisoners say police are monitoring their homes with surveillance cameras and they believe hackers may be planning to sell the images on social media.
Recently, state-controlled media have run a number of reports about hacker groups selling accounts that allow people to access hundreds of cameras in bedrooms, bathrooms, student dorms, spas and massage parlors.
One group posted an advertisement on the Telegram messaging network claiming: “The group specializes in hacking videos from super hidden cameras of families and facilities in Vietnam. They are hidden and offer hot scenes of families,” according to the VnExpress news site.
Dissidents and relatives of political prisoners are doubly concerned, saying police are already monitoring their every move with cameras pointing at their homes.
Le Thi Ha is the wife of former Dak Lak Pedagogical College music lecturer Dang Dang Phuoc. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in June, accused of “propaganda against the state.”
She lives in Dak Lak province’s Buon Ma Thuot city. On Monday, she told Radio Free Asia the police were spying on her.
“Neighbors secretly told me that local police installed cameras on Dec. 15. The camera was installed on the neighbor’s porch across from my house and pointed directly at my house,” Ha said.
“I don’t know whether images from the camera will be posted online or used for some other purpose. But having a camera pointed directly at my house violates my privacy and shows that they want to closely monitor my daily schedule.”
RFA Vietnamese called the Tan Loi Ward police to ask about the camera but the person who answered the phone asked the reporter to go to the agency’s headquarters. RFA also called the Dak Lak provincial police department to ask about the incident but no one answered the phone.
Nguyen Thi Chau, wife of prisoner Nguyen Ngoc Anh, told RFA that the police of Binh Dai district in Ben Tre province installed two cameras pointing directly at her house several years ago, after her husband was arrested and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda.”
On Monday she told RFA the police had ignored her concerns about the cameras.
“When I complained to the local police, they said the cameras were installed to prevent crimes,” she said. “I asked them not to point them at my house and they promised to fix it, but they didn’t fix it and just kept monitoring my family for the past three years.”
Concerned about the invasion of privacy, Nguyen Thi Chau tried to disable or reduce the ability of the two cameras pointed at her home by putting a black grille over the gate and fence.
RFA reporters repeatedly called Binh Dai district Police to ask about the cameras but no one answered.
Former political prisoners face the same surveillance as the families of current prisoners. Le Quy Loc was released in early September after a five year prison sentence for “disturbing security” and is currently serving two years’ probation in Truong Quang Trong ward, Quang Ngai city. He told RFA that his gate now has a camera pointed at it.
This camera was installed in the house of a neighbor who works as a police officer about 10 days before he left the prison.
When he questioned the neighbor, he was told the camera was for the purpose of preventing theft, not aimed at former political prisoners.
However, he said the local police recently went to his house and planned to install a new camera near his house.
National monitoring system
In February 2021, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh approved a project of the Ministry of Public Security with a budget of VND 2.15 trillion (US$90 million) to install surveillance cameras and traffic command and control equipment across the country. The plan has now been taken up at a local level.
On Dec. 13, the Dak Lak Electronic Newspaper reported that the chairman of Buon Ma Thuot City People’s Committee Vu Van Hung had announced plans to install over 100 security cameras in the city, including some with facial recognition, for security and order reasons. Buon Ma Thuot city has already installed 454 cameras in wards and communes. They will be connected to the surveillance center of the ward and commune police, the city police and the Provincial Smart Urban Operation Monitoring Center.
Vietnamese law has provisions to protect personal information. Article 38 of the 2015 Civil Code regulates the right to protect private life, personal secrets, and family secrets. According to the law, the collection, storage, use, and disclosure of information related to private life and personal secrets must be approved by the person concerned.
Article 21 of the Vietnamese Constitution stipulates: everyone is entitled to the inviolability of personal privacy, personal secrecy and familial secrecy and has the right to protect his or her honor and prestige. Information regarding personal privacy, personal secrecy and familial secrecy is safely protected by the law.
However, local security forces often send policemen to guard and monitor social events or visits by high-ranking foreign officials and the growing use of security cameras means that political activists and their families feel that the state is constantly watching them.
Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Mike Firn.