The definition of spying as mentioned in Section 32 of the Digital Security Act 2018 draft has left the government policymakers abashed.
Senior government officials say that although many of them have declined to officially comment, they described it as ‘digital espionage’ during discussions among themselves.
The section in question proposes a 14-year imprisonment and a Tk20 lakh fine or both for espionage, defined as illegally entering government, semi-government and autonomous offices and secretly recording any kind of information or data with electronic devices.
Since the draft’s approval on Monday, top government officials have refrained from commenting. IT Minister Mustafa Jabbar defended Section 32, saying it was necessary.
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Law Minister Anisul Huq and Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed gave their own opinions while Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu and State Minister Tarana Halim declined to comment.
“The issue is very sensitive,” a secretary said. “It will not be right to comment on it publicly.”
A joint secretary, seeking anonymity, said: “It appears that the government policymakers have gotten into an embarrassing situation. It will likely pass after some time.”
The official said that many of the act’s defendants were trying to give explanations to appease journalists in late night talk shows.
Also Read- Tofail: Digital Security Act to stop journos from writing against MPs
Commerce Minister Tofail pulled no punches when speaking about the law.
“Your (journalists) reports against members of Parliament often cause embarrassment to public representatives and tarnish their images. This law will hopefully prevent that,” he said.
Tofail, however, feared that it would not be enough to stop the media from running reports against MPs.
He said the act had been formulated after much thought. “The process has been very transparent,” he said. “The previous ICT Act was passed during the BNP-led government but there were many ambiguities. The new act clarifies them.”
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Meanwhile, Anisul said exposing the truth or illegal activities would not be considered espionage.
He said the ICT ministry had finalized the law to penalize crimes involving computers and assured that no one would be harassed under the Digital Security Act.
“It will not curb freedom of expression,” he said. “Section 57 of the ICT Act has been abolished as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina does not want anyone to suffer unnecessarily because of this law.”
Section 57, he said, was hampering free speech to some extent and was being abused, adding: “We had pledged to stop the misuse, and now we have done it.”
Also Read - Digital Security Act draft approved, Section 57 repealed
“The father of the nation had been killed, people defamed the Liberation War, but they could not be brought to book. We can now hold them to account with the new digital security law,” he added.
Minister Anisul said that Section 57 had some ambiguities, adding: “The minimum punishment was seven-year imprisonment. In the new law, the criminal offences have been specified and the changes in punishment have been made accordingly.”
On why the Digital Security Act was formulated, he said: “Previously, many crimes were tried under the Penal Code but there was nothing specific for offences committed using computers. Under the new law, crimes using computers have been clarified.”
This article was first published on banglatribune.com