NEWSPAPERS from 32 countries, leading authors and several Nobel laureates from 83 countries have joined voice in issuing an appeal against mass surveillance that has been hogging international headlines over the last couple of months. The fact that powerful spy agencies overseas have been snooping on individuals in leadership, business and others in public realm is now common knowledge. We understand the security concerns the government may have in the digital age. Granted some of these concerns cannot be brushed aside. We also understand the need for respecting privacy and the right of every individual to express his/her views freely. We endorse the global stand for democracy in digital age wholeheartedly.
In the Bangladeshi context, the amendments brought to the ICT Act 2006 in the year 2013 leave us with many concerns. More specifically, Section 57 of the Act can be used to stifle opposition to the State whereby writers can be subjected to prosecution for expressing their thoughts. Indeed, as pointed out by legal experts, such a section is in contravention with Article 39 of the constitution. Again the police have been given sweeping powers to arrest anyone for posting online material considered to be “subversive” under the provisions of the Act without requiring an arrest warrant signed by a magistrate. The amended Act, we believe is in contravention of basic human rights. Allowing for such sweeping surveillance without sufficient oversight and accountability to civilian authority sets the stage for abuse. A new law is needed that will address security needs without compromising privacy issues and civil rights.