Statement: Proposed Amendments to the Information and Communication Technology Act Violates Privacy and Human Rights
[Dhaka, 23 August 2013) – VOICE, a rights-based research and advocacy organization in Bangladesh has raised serious concerns about the recently approved proposed draft of the Information and Communication Technology (Amendment) Act 2013, which poses a severe threat to the enjoyment of the right to privacy, freedom expression and other human rights in the country.
A cabinet meeting on 19 August 2013 cleared the Information and Technology (Amendment) Ordinance draft, which proposes to increase the punishment for any violation of the law to 14 years of imprisonment, from the present maximum of 10 years. Destroying computer data with malicious intent, transferring data without proper authority, hacking, and releasing vulgar and defaming information in electronic form will be considered serious offences as per the proposed amendments.
The provisions of existing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) law are non-cognisable, meaning that law enforcement cannot arrest or investigate anyone without prior approval from the authority or court. Under the proposed changes, destroying or misusing computer data with ill motives, hacking computers or intranets and being involved in obscenity would be considered a cognisable offense and authorities concerned would be empowered to take actions against such activities without prior approval. At the same time, no aggrieved person or victims would be allowed go to the court according to the amended law; only law enforcement or ministry officials would be allowed to do so.
The right to privacy is essential to enable individuals to express themselves freely. The ICT Act and amendment provision however, doesn’t recognize the right to privacy. As the country does not have any data protection law, anyone can be the victim of misuse of the law, considering the emergence of the information highway and technological advancements.
Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, executive director of VOICE said, "The ICT Act has a bigger impact in the society, enabling communities to connect to the information highway and allowing for the construction of a digital Bangladesh. However, the amendment in the law has the possibility to enable the abuse of opinions and voices of the citizens and political groups, endangering citizens’ right to privacy and human rights at large. It also neglects personal data and privacy protections and people's aspirations for the freedom and democratic practices along with accountability and governance."
Prof Gus Hossain, executive director of Privacy International said, "Technologies and the internet enable the free flow of ideas, information, and opportunities. Protections ensuring privacy and freedom of expression online are key to building strong, democratic societies. Laws such as the ICT Act amendments not only threaten human rights, they undermine the immense benefits of digital tools and the internet.”
VOICE expresses our bold reservation against the amendment, which will increase massive communication surveillance and monitoring over internet users which are specifically cause of hampering right to privacy and human rights. We urge to government to `respect and guarantee individuals' human rights by ensuring that lawful procedures that govern any interference with human rights are properly enumerated in law’.
Note: VOICE is a rights-based research and advocacy organization based in Dhaka Bangladesh and established in 2002. It is registered under Trust Act as not for profit organization. Voice has been working on the issues around media and ICTs, and Privacy in the developing world project with Privacy International, UK.