Big Brother is watching
If the government's move to amend the
Telecomm Act becomes successful, it will allow the intelligence
agencies to tap phone calls and bust into our e-mail accounts.
Afsan Chowdhury, an independent media analyst
and former correspondent of the BBC, believes it's no secret
that the intelligence agencies frequently tap phone calls. “
I was told that government agencies had tapped Selim Samad's
phone to track him down while he was running away from home
fearing police arrest,” Afsan says. Samad, a stringer working
with two visiting Channel Four journalists was arrested and
later charged with sedition for working with the foreign newsmen.
Though different intelligence agencies have
long been doing it, eavesdropping on phone conversation is illegal.
In fact, tapped materials can't be produced before the court,
as breaching individual's privacy, in such a way, is declared
an offence by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Act 2001.
Section 71 of the Act states, “A person commits
an offence, if he intentionally listens to a telephone conversation
between two other persons, and for such offence, he shall be
liable to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not exceeding
six months or to a fine not exceeding 50 thousand Taka or both.”
But the government has recently decided to amend the law, allowing
its spies to overhear people's phone conversation and bust emails,
a recently published newspaper report says.
report, quoting an unnamed source says, a leading intelligence
agency backed by others has initiated the move and has been
able to persuade the Prime Minister's Office to bring changes
to the law, citing the rise of terrorist activities in Bangladesh
and September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Centre. Saber
Hossain Chowdhury, Political Advisor to the Leader of the Opposition,
thinks government's logic behind enactment of such draconian
law is flimsy and self-contradictory. “BNP led Four Party Alliance
claims the law and order situation is good in the country; and
at the same time they are enacting laws that you need when the
country is in Emergency or at war with external enemies,” Saber
On the other hand, amending the existing telecomm
act on the pretext of fighting terrorism is laughable. Even
the US government, in its much-criticised Homeland Security
Act, wasn't able to put clauses that would breach individuals
basic privacy, Saber says. “The government, which was on a repressive
mode, has found a deceitful excuse in the terror attack on the
twin towers,” he says. Saber declares the move as the single
most dangerous attack on personal liberty.
Ironically, the government, particularly the
office of the home minister, has been vigorous in denying the
presence of AL-Qiada-like terror groups in the country. But
if the government goes on with its move to amend the law, it
might be seen as tacit admission of its failure to curb religious
Interestingly, the proposed law will not be
able to track down foreign terrorists who might use Bangladesh
as their sanctuary. “A post-paid GSM mobile user either from
India or Pakistan or from any other country can roam in Bangladesh.
If one such user is an insurgent, or drug dealer or arms smuggler
and visits here, the local intelligence may tap calls but cannot
catch the caller, unless the corresponding GSM provider reveals
the address,” writes telecom expert Abu Saeed Khan in a local
daily. Everything will then depend on the goodwill and telecom
law of that particular country. Goodwill and security measures
won't work on terrorists using cells from multiple GSM service
providers, Saeed says. In fact, it will be practically impossible
to trace the terrorist if he uses different addresses.
So all roads lead to a plausible conclusion--
whatever the government says, this law is meant to be used on
political dissidents. Many fear, the proposed amendment, when
it takes effect, will be used as a weapon of blackmailing. “They
can distort the voice, using the latest gadgets, and can later
use it to blackmail people,” Debashish Paul, a schoolteacher
comments. Saber, too, thinks the government might record “different
words in a particular conversation to produce a twisted version
of it to the court as evidence.”
Ironically, Bangladesh Awami League (AL), an
otherwise hartal-savvy organisation, has so far remained unusually
silent about the new measures. Debashish believes the AL's silence
can only be explained in one way--the party wants to use this
law whenever it returns to power. “This law is going to be another
Special Powers Act," says Debashish, referring to the infamous
law that allows the arrest and confinement of any citizen without
any warrant or whatsoever for as long as 30 days. “This is unfortunate.
Our elected government is making a law that is comparable to
Nazi tactics,” Debashish bitterly says.