Saturday, February 4, 2012

Contents of Internet to be under scanner

Authorities have begun preliminary work on monitoring the content of blogs and social networking sites to track down and bring to task the perpetrators of cyber crimes under the 2001 Bangladesh Telecommuni-cations Act.(The Independent)

Giashuddin Ahmed, the vice-chairman of the Bangladesh Telecommuni-cations Regulatory Commission (BTRC), confirmed the new forward momentum on developing monitoring policies after Thursday’s maiden meeting of a 14-person panel to thwart cyber threats. The panel, named the Bangladesh Computer Security Incidents Response Team, was formed by the BTRC in response to an abortive military coup aimed at overthrowing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government in December.

The team will not only monitor contents of blogs and social media networks for potential threats, it will also oversee research on improving internet security systems and will advise law enforcement agencies in tracking potential offenders.

Under the Telecommunications Act, sending or publishing obscene messages, or harassment via phone or internet, telephone hacking, issuance of threat, publication of content that goes against the social values or incites hatred or attacks national unity and solidarity, are all among punishable cyber crimes.

Offenders, if proved guilty, will face a maximum punishment of five years' imprisonment and a maximum fine of Tk 300 crore.

More than a decade after the Telecommunications Act was ratified none of Bangladesh’s estimated six million internet users has been punished under it.

“We're trying to bring discipline to the sector, and that'll take time,” explained Ahmed. As of now, the team has yet to decide whether monitoring should be carried out on a random basis or through a systematic dredging of web content.

At Thursday’s meeting the panel, comprising of senior officials of the BTRC, representatives from internet service providers, mobile phone and cable operators, and others, was instructed to develop a concrete methodological proposal by Feb. 12.

The Bangladesh Internet Service Providers Association welcomed the government’s regulatory move, pointing out that the country has 85.45 million mobile phone users in addition to its estimated six million internet subscribers, making it one of the fastest growing internet using countries in the world.

Internet users are less enthusiastic, expressing concerns that innocent people may well be victimised by the policies and that government measures are too easily abused as a mechanism for infringing individual rights to privacy.

Neaz Rahman, an urban planner and project manager for the UN in Dhaka, however fears that the panel will become a tool for monitoring anti-government, rather than anti-state or actually criminal, activity.

A Dhaka resident, Mustafiz Alam, questioned the formation of the panel, without any representation for lay internet users, who would be more likely to raise questions about their own rights to privacy and free expression.