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Handset registration: Will BTRC move hurt consumers’ privacy?

  • Published at 12:23 am January 16th, 2019
The inside of a smartphone is pictured in this illustration taken April 17, 2018 REUTERS

General people and rights experts express concern

General people and rights experts have expressed concern over Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission’s(BTRC) plan to have all types of mobile handsets registered in a database, saying people’s privacy and rights will be violated.

Earlier this week, BTRC announced its initiative in order to ensure national security, increase revenue of the governmentby stopping the illegal entry of handsets, and decrease mobile phone-based crimes.

It also said that the initiative, under which adatabase for the phones’International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) codesis being developed,may kick off by the end of January.

Reacting to the idea, Dhaka University (DU) studentTanvir Hasansaid he was not sure how safe he would feel after registering his mobile phone’s IMEI code in the BTRC database.

“I do not know whatwill happen if my personal details and the IMEI codeare sharedwith anyone else. It’s not even clear how much personal information the government will keepin the database.

“I respect the government’s decision to ensure national security, but I am not comfortable to go anywhere when I know that my movement is being watched by the state,” he said.

“Moreover, I am afraid that the IMEI code can be cloned as well. If someone does that, then I will end up in trouble,” added Tanvir.

Consumers Association of Bangladesh Chairman Golam Rahman said that general people neededtheir privacy ensured along with security.“To identify criminals and track their activities, the government definitely needs some basic information.

Also Read- Why is BTRC mulling registration for all mobile handsets?

“However, the government should collect the necessary information only to ensure national security, but not all personal informationgoing beyond necessity,” he added.

Questioning the BTRC initiative’s viability,right activistDr Sultana Kamal said it will violatethe people’s right to freedom of movement.

“Under what power they can do this? Intelligence agencies have their own technology to track criminals who are threatsto national security. They do not need to monitor everyone’s personal life,” she said.

However, information technology expert Dr BM Mainul Hossain said that the BTRC’s idea of having all handsets registeredsounded great. “But I do not know how much they will be able to implement it in reality.

“Preventing illegal entry of mobile handsets and ensuringnational security, all the while protecting the consumers’ personal information — that will be the biggest challenge,” he said.

“The system of registration of handsets is – not to record personal information of consumers along with the IMEI number. The main concern is whether the government will be able to do what they plan to do. Law enforcement agencies can also ensure security by using the technology that they own,” he added.

Explaining the risks, Mainul, an associate professor at DU’s Institute of Information Technology,said: “It’s not a big deal to clone the IMEI number and access duplicate handsets in the market.

“It’s a million-dollar business. There are big fishes in the black market that may get their hands on the IMEI numbers registered in the [BTRC] database. They will remain untouchable.”

He said: “Personal information is sensitive. The database can also be hacked by any third party and misused. If that happens, general consumers will suffer even after going through the official procedure.”

Mainul urged the authorities concerned to ensureinformation security and privacy of every consumer, by not recording personal detailsalong with the IMEI code.