Govt officials cannot seize a citizen’s phone and read his or her private messages, says the court
A Jhenaidah court has come to the aid of a man who was about to become a victim of abuse of power by a public servant and observed that a citizen’s right to privacy cannot be violated under any circumstances.
The observation by the court of the District and Sessions Judge came in August during the hearing of a bail petition of a 27-year-old man, who was prosecuted under the Digital Security Act in a case filed by an employee of the office of Kalinganj UNO (upazila administration chief).
On August 2, Kaliganj resident Mohammad Ajijul Haque snapped some pictures on his phone of policemen assaulting a bus driver during a mobile court drive led by the UNO and shared them on a private group on WhatsApp, according to media reports.
And that was it! The mobile court detained him, seized his phone before taking screengrab of the messages and the 27-year-old was prosecuted under the Digital Security Act.
Charges of defamation, disseminating false information and obstruction of justice — all non-bailable offences — were pressed against Ajijul, who had to spend three weeks in jail before securing bail on August 24.
During the bail hearing on August 24, District and Sessions Judge Md Showkat Hossain said that a citizen's right to privacy cannot be violated even when he or she is being prosecuted under the Digital Security Act, say media reports.
A public servant, such as a UNO (upazila administration chief), does not have the right to seize a citizen’s mobile phone and read his or her private messages, the court said.
Describing the charges brought against Ajijul as “wrong”, it said that they were contradictory to the constitutional rights.
The court said that the police should have thoroughly investigated before even accepting the case.
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The judge said that charges of defamation and obstruction of justice do not hold as WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted, which means only the sender and recipients can see it and that such conversations cannot defame anyone or pose a threat to law and order.
Media reports quoted UNO Sadia Zerin saying that she thought Ajijul needed to be prosecuted under the Digital Security Act "considering the circumstances". She, however, declined to comment on the court’s observation.
Plaintiff Lutfur Rahman, an office assistant of the UNO offices, said he lodged the digital security case upon Zerin’s orders.