What do British and Bangladeshi ICT laws have in common?
There has been a rapid technological shift in the last two decades all over the world, and technology has come to infiltrate almost every facet of our lives, making it all the more convenient and comfortable in the process.
In spite of the fact that laws are being developed and amended to deal with as many current and future offences relating to technology as possible, legislation tends to lag due to the sheer acceleration of technological progress.
When it comes to the topic of cyber crime, in the UK there is a host lot of applicable laws in place to fight it, eg the Computer Misuse Act 1990, Police and Justice Act 2006, Serious Crime Act 2015, and many others.
Cyber crimes are largely divided into two categories: Cyber-centric crime and cyber-enabled crime. Cyber-centric crimes are offences where there is an unauthorized access to computer systems or an attack on a system, the interception of communications et al. Cyber-enabled crimes, on the other hand, are the kind which are facilitated by ICT for committing more human-centric crimes.
The first piece of UK legislation designed to specifically address cyber crime was the Computer Misuse Act 1990. The act was designed to mainly address hacking-related crimes. Two accused, Stephen Gold and Robert Schifreen, were not convicted -- they had gained unauthorized access to BT’s Prestel service in 1984. Both of them were charged under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981. However, they were acquitted by the Court of Appeal and the acquittal decision was later upheld by the House of Lords. The act was a response to growing concerns that existing legislations were inadequate for dealing with such crimes.
In the case of the the Aids Information Trojan, the accused was extradited to the UK to stand trial on charges of blackmail and damaging computer systems. Computer hacking is now being considered an act of terror in the UK by law, as per the Terrorism Act 2000. In that context, “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where: (a) the use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and (b) the use or threat is made for the purposes of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause.
In 2006, the Bangladesh parliament enacted a legislation, namely the Information and Communication Technology Act 2006 (amended in 2009 and 2013), to control cyber crime by mandating rigorous punishment.
We have a similar provision in the ICT Act. Section 57 of the ICT (amendment) Act, 2013 has become a matter of controversy in Bangladesh over the past year for restricting freedom of speech.
Section 57 of the act states that if any person deliberately publishes any material in electronic form that causes the law and order situation to deteriorate, besmirches the image of the state or any individual, or hurts religious sentiments, the offender will be punished with a maximum of 14 years and a minimum of seven years of imprisonment, the crime being completely non-bailable.
Bangladesh is not the only country that is struggling to strike a balance between freedom of speech and national security.
As a relatively young nation, Bangladesh has had to tackle many cyber crimes in a short span of time. Our legislations have similar provisions to that of the British laws. But one of the most serious limitations of ICT laws in UK and Bangladesh is their inability to tackle the global nature of such crimes. There is no direct provision in Bangladesh or in Britain to deal with financial frauds in cyber crime-related laws. Many crimes which are taking place in social media remain unaddressed by these legislations.
Legislation which addresses specific types of criminal activity is not enough to tackle the problem of cyber crime. Both UK and Bangladesh government have to ensure that law enforcement agencies have the knowledge, technical expertise, and resources to deal with such crimes. It’s been 12 years since the ICT Act was introduced, and a digital forensics lab was only recently opened in our ICT division.
We hope that our government will consider the opinions of experts and the media regarding the proposed Digital Security Act 2018 so that it does not hamper freedom of speech while tackling cyber crimes in a tangible and effective manner.
Miti Sanjana is a Barrister-at-law from Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, and an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and an activist.