The recent initiative of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) to collect information of tenants and landlords living in the capital – for the purported curbing of militant activities – has raised several eyebrows.
While they appreciate the aim of such initiative, many Dhaka residents are concerned that collection of such personal and sensitive information could compromise both their security and privacy, should it fall into the wrong hands.
“I appreciate police's efforts to prevent militant or criminal activities. But what will happen if this information about me and my family members somehow gets leaked? It is a possibility,” said Atikur Rahman, a landlord in Bailey Road area.
The tenants fear that if their personal details get leaked, it could be used against them to extort money, harass their female family members, or even abduct their children.
“I do not think providing personal details of every single member of my family is necessary. If I provide all my information as the head of my family, they [police] can ask me what they need to know regarding my family,” said Abul Khair, a resident of RK Mission Road in Gopibagh.
The DMP has been distributing the tenant/landlord information form to every household that falls within its jurisdiction for several months now.
But recently the drive gained momentum, especially after detectives busted militant dens and seized massive collections of bombs and explosive material in different residential areas in Dhaka.
Despite the reservations and concerns, all the landlords that talked to the Dhaka Tribune said they had collected their tenants' information and submitted them to the DMP, because they do not want to get into any trouble.
Meanwhile, sources at the DMP headquarters told the Dhaka Tribune that DMP Commissioner Md Asaduzzaman Mia in a meeting instructed all deputy commissioners to collect the information and update the database by March 15.
If any landlord or tenant fails to submit the form in due time, legal action will be taken against them, the DMP chief said at the meeting, according to the sources.
How safe or practical is this information collection process?
The concerned tenants and landlords also question DMP's information collection process.
“I have travelled to many countries. Nowhere have I seen any government agency collect information on citizens this way,” Atikur Rahman told the Dhaka Tribune.
“Why do they [police] need to collect all this information when it is already available in the national ID database?” asked Eti Laila Kazi, an assistant professor at a private university in the capital and a tenant in Bailey Road.
“This is not the right way to collect people's information,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
The form, titled “Tenant Registration Form”, asks for the tenant or the flat/house owner's name, photo, permanent address, workplace address, religion, mobile phone number, national ID number, email address, passport number, and the names, ages, occupations and mobile phone numbers of the family members.
The form also asks for the names, national ID numbers, mobile numbers and permanent addresses of the housemaids and drivers in the households.
“Housemaids and drivers are fired and new people are hired very frequently. Am I supposed to submit a form every time I hire a new housemaid or a new driver?” said Korshed Alam, a house owner in Khilgaon.
“I have my doubts about this form and this process,” said Parvin Akhter, a landlady in Malibagh. “I have a national ID; all the information that the police are seeking from me was given when I applied for the ID. They can collect the information they require from there.”
They also ask how the DMP was going to verify the information provided to them.
Those who have bad intentions could easily provide false information on the form, a number of tenants and landlords told the Dhaka Tribune.
Fear of harassment of girls, women
However, most of the concern stems from the fear of harassment of the women and potential harm to the children in the households.
Parents are worried that the details of their children could easily be used to abduct them. Girls and young women are also likely to face sexual harassment if the information is leaked.
“Most of the female tenants or landladies would not want to submit their photos out of safety concern,” said Eti Laila Kazi. “Information like this, especially your workplace address, email IDs and mobile phone numbers, is very sensitive and restricted. If this information gets leaked, it may cause a lot of problems for their owners. Young girls and women, especially, may face harassment,” Eti said.
Azizur Rahman, a private job holder who lives in Rampura, said: “I have two daughters, who are already harassed by local stalkers, and my landlord’s son teases them. What if those boys get their hands on my daughters’ contact information?”
Puja Karmakar and Rupa Akhter are two private university students who live in a hostel in the capital.
“We live in this city for our studies. Our family lives outside Dhaka,” they told the Dhaka Tribune. “We do not feel safe filling up a form with our personal details and giving it to the police. Information gets leaked all the time. That is why we did not give our numbers; we provided our fathers’ numbers.”
A writ petition has already been filed with the High Court challenging this initiative. Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua filed the petition on Thursday, seeking a suspension of the DMP’s drive, as well as the court’s directive to stop use of any information already collected.
Two days before filing the petition, the lawyer served a legal notice to the authorities concerned asking on what legal grounds was the DMP running this drive and how the collected information would be stored.