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Dhaka Tribune

Is your privacy at risk?

Update : 19 Dec 2021, 12:40 AM

With the advancement of information and technology, there are millions of ways to get access to someone’s virtual space or private data that is available online. With the increase in the number of internet users, incidents violating privacy are rising tremendously in Bangladesh. It is evident that increased connectivity is bringing the increased risk of high-tech crimes, including cyber-based terrorism, espionage, computer intrusions, and major cyber fraud, while building our wired and wireless networks. So, the necessity of rules and regulations over such activities has become very important.


Under Article 43 of the constitution, Bangladesh concedes the right to privacy and correspondence. However, there was no specific law for privacy or data protection in the country and this makes internet and mobile phone users unaccountable to privacy violations. In 2006, the government of Bangladesh passed a law on information and communication technology taking all these aspects into account. This law was later amended in 2013. 


Article 57 of this law defined crimes as the willful publication of any false or vulgar material on websites or any other electronic platform that can motivate someone or defame someone, cause deterioration of law and order, and tarnish the image of the individuals and/or hurt religious sentiments -- all of which are quite vague. 


Many journalists and human rights activists are arrested under the ICT Act. Also, this criminalizes several acts that are likely to violate the privacy of computer systems; these include damage to computer or computer system -- section 54, tampering with computer source code -- section 55, and hacking with the computer system -- section 56. One of the responsibilities of the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) is to “ensure the protection of the privacy of telecommunication.” This law also contains provisions that allow the infringement of this right in cases of “national security and public order.”


In 2018, the government passed the Digital Security Act (DSA) which is termed a draconian law by civil societies and human rights activists, as the state agencies use this law against journalists and civilians to silence their voices. The main challenges of privacy and security in Bangladesh are the unclear concept of privacy, the problematization of the concept of security, including human security, different ways to infringe privacy, the right to privacy, national security, and public order as an anti-privacy phenomenon.

This privacy comprises four parts: Communication, information, territorial, and physical privacy. Empirical evidence shows that the right to privacy can jeopardize the security of the state or undermine the friendship with other foreign countries. There are different values -- public order, morality, public policy, etc -- that a state should also safeguard, and sometimes these values conflict with the right to privacy.


Another issue with this law is that it is not only misused to harass journalists, activists, writers, etc, but also violates people’s privacy, which has been a greater concern ever since the country aimed at the goal of creating a “Digital Bangladesh.” The common masses imply, “Where is my digital security and privacy in my digital country? Are we actually developing or are we rather falling prey to expose all our personal and organizational data to the state?” 


There is no specific principle for data usage in the laws of Bangladesh. So the country lacks digital transparency, accountability, confidentiality, etc. The government of Bangladesh is drafting a Data Protection Bill this year, however, the proposed law is concerning because, in the name of protecting personal information, it might be used as a weapon to control dissents and hinder people’s right to express their opinions. 


There exist a lot of ways of infringement of information, such as unauthorized access, breach of data security, fraudulent collection of private data, interceptions by government agencies, spamming, or phishing. The proposed Act is in contravention with the freedom of expression, which is a basic foundation of democracy and is considered one of the most fundamental aspects of all kinds of freedom. It is not only the people of Bangladesh; in recent times, freedom of expression of people is increasingly under attack in different parts of the world. 


Laws are made for the welfare of the state and its citizens, but nowadays, we see a lot of vague laws that are only being created to hinder the freedom of civil rights. The data protection law must be made in a way that would empower the government to tackle the growing number of cybercrimes. In order to pass a transparent law, the government should consult with all the stakeholders with a draft, mentioning probable rules to ensure that it does not hinder fundamental rights like freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the freedom of the press. Laws must be made to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens and not repress their voices and rights. 


The other challenges to exercising the right to privacy are access to communications data, mass communications surveillance, targeted communications surveillance, restrictions on anonymity, and internet filtering and censorship. The constitution of Bangladesh does not expressly ensure the right to privacy as a fundamental right, however, as per Article 43, the right to privacy of correspondence and other means of communication is a fundamental right. Hence, the proposed law must ensure the privacy of individuals as well as of communities. 


At present, human rights defenders can not only address their concern abstractly in moral, ethical, legal, or juridical terms, but must act on what concrete changes need to take place. Simultaneously, emergency intervention to respond to the current crises, both external and internal, which affect victims' quality of life, livelihood, and dignity are necessary.


Thus, the whole complex scenario with regard to cyber security and online communications needs comprehensive research.  Further awareness-raising and capacity-building programs among people are required to steer policy influencing in the  right direction. Ultimately, there is a necessity to formulate a people-centred data protection law.  


Nahian Ahmed Shah is the Program Officer at VOICE, a Dhaka based research organization.

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