Asia - Pacific

Bangladesh to regulate digital media to check ‘misuse’

While experts say draft regulation has been copied from India, officials argue monitoring digital platforms is necessary to stop spread of misinformation

SM Najmus Sakib   | 07.05.2022
Bangladesh to regulate digital media to check ‘misuse’

DHAKA, Bangladesh

Rights organizations in Bangladesh are opposing a draft submitted by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) aimed to regulate digital platforms, social media, and streaming services.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, government officials claimed that such regulations were necessary to monitor online platforms amid the rising digital crimes and misinformation circulating on social media.

According to BTRC, there are over 182 million mobile phone subscribers in Bangladesh. Of them, over 124 million are internet subscribers with about 45 million having Facebook accounts.

In a letter to the BRTC over 45 rights groups including Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), and Global Network Initiative have alleged that it will further compromise personal data protection and freedom of expression.

According to the draft, the authorities can access one’s data, arrest anyone or remove any content because it affects or threatens the image of the state, relations with foreign states, the spirit of the liberation war, casts aspirations on the father of the nation and discloses secrets of the government.

Bangladesh slipped 10 points ranking 162nd out of 180 countries in the global media freedom index prepared by Reporters Without Borders published last week.

Replete with vagueness

Speaking to Anadolu Agency TIB Executive Director Iftekhar-u- Zaman said the draft is replete with vagueness and lack of clarity which will widen the scope of misinterpretations or motivated interpretation for abuse.

“It (the draft regulation) makes it mandatory to disclose the identity of message sender and receiver and arbitrary and indiscriminate removal of content and repressive action which are against freedom of speech, the plurality of opinions and right to privacy,” he said.

There are definite risks of malicious use of digital and social media and over-the-top platforms, which need to be regulated. But the purpose of such regulations should also be to facilitate their legitimate use consistent with fundamental freedoms of users, he added.

Quazi Mahfujul Hoque Supan, a law teacher at the University of Dhaka, told the Anadolu Agency that the government move will create an environment of fear among users and people will talk less on social media.

“The end-to-end encryption service of messaging apps, like in WhatsApp, Messenger where only the communicating users can read the messages, will be broken if the draft is applied,” he said.

He said the draft regulation may not only imperil privacy but will potentially impact the streaming service and information technology business in Bangladesh.

The law teacher claimed that the draft regulation has largely been copied from India.

“A borrowed regulation is not suitable to regulate contents in a different context,” he said.

Both experts said the BTRC and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry were formulating policies separately on the same subject.

Government defends

Bangladesh Posts and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar said government agencies are working on the draft regulation in line with the direction of the country’s court.

“We submitted the draft to the court last month and the court will decide further on it. We earlier uploaded the draft on our website for public opinion,” he said.

He suggested rights groups appear before the court if they have any issues.

The minister claimed that those who are criticizing the draft do not know how social media is being used to spread misinformation and create anarchy and communal violence in the country in recent times.

“Crimes through digital media are seen rising, including spreading rumors, misinformation, communal incitement, and militant propaganda. So, the state has its responsibility to act against these odds,” he said.

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