Dhaka University (DU) law department’s Md Mahbubur Rahman said the director general (DG) of the proposed Digital Security Agency has been given the power to ask the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to remove any information or, in specific cases, block social media accounts if the DG is satisfied that the published content is a threat to digital security
Legal experts and civil society members yesterday expressed fear that the recently passed Digital Security Act 2018 may be used to curtail freedom of expression.
The comments were made at a discussion titled “'Digital Security Act-2018: Human Rights under Threat,” organized by the Committee for the Protection of Fundamental Rights at the Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU).
Speakers at the discussion urged the government to review the Digital Security Act prior to final approval by President Md Abdul Hamid, reports UNB.
Supreme Court lawyer Dr Shahdeen Malik said when a law proposes the establishment of a special institution to implement it, there needs to be clear description of the duties, responsibilities and power of the institution and its chief.
“The Digital Security Act does not have a clear description of the power of the institution it proposes to implement it, or of the power of the head of the institution. This leaves the chance that the act may be used by the government as they wish, as they have kept control over whether to increase or decrease the mandate of the institution,” he added.
Dr Shahdeen further said while it was necessary to have a law to address the misuse of computer systems and the internet, the law could not curb the freedom of expression of the people.
The Supreme Court lawyer also claimed that several sections of the Digital Security Act were more alarming than the controversial Section 57 of the Information Technology Act-2006.
Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua said: "If anyone commits an offence under Section 32, meaning one breaks the Official Secrets Act 1923 via a computer, digital device, computer network, digital network or any other digital media, she or he will get a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail or Tk25 lakh in fines, or both. This is contrary to the objectives of the Right to Information Act-2009."
Dhaka University (DU) law department’s Md Mahbubur Rahman said the director general (DG) of the proposed Digital Security Agency has been given the power to ask the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to remove any information or, in specific cases, block social media accounts if the DG is satisfied that the published content is a threat to digital security.
"This section goes against fundamental rights because it does not allow the offender to know what offence he or she has committed, and the law does not include a procedure to ask the authority to verify the allegations," he added.
Comparing the Digital Security Act to information technology related laws of India and Pakistan, he also said the range of punishment prescribed in the law is very harsh and may prove to be a danger to freedom of expression. “Such harsh punishments may lead to self-censorship, which is not good for democracy.”
“Spirit of Liberation War”, “religious sentiment”, and “image and reputation of the state” are just some examples of “vague and undefined” terms in the act that have the potential to be misused, Mahbub said.
He further stressed the need for implementation of a protocol on the collection of storage of digital evidence before the act receives final approval, to prevent manipulation of evidence.