24/7 watch on online activity in Bangladesh | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 19, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 07:15 AM, May 19, 2016

24/7 watch on online activity in Bangladesh

New govt project aims to curb cyber crimes; experts fear it may end up posing threat to privacy, free speech

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The government plans to shell out Tk 150.51 crore for a project to tackle growing cyber threats by monitoring people's online and social media activities round-the-clock.

While the establishment of the network will assist law enforcement agencies in tracking criminal activities, it will hand enormous power to the government to establish control over people's online activity. It may encroach on citizens' private life.

Under the project, a centre called Cyber Threat Detection and Response Network will be set up.

Officials linked with the project said the network would empower the government to remove any contents and even block any sites anytime. It will also track people's activities online.

The telecom department will control the system and act on behalf of the government, said officials.

Under the system, all international internet gateways will be connected with the network and a team will monitor online activities round-the-clock.

The system will also identify the users who use private internet protocol, project documents show.

The draft of the project has already been sent to the Planning Commission for review, said Md Faizur Rahman Chowdhury, secretary of the Telecom Division.

“Misuse of information technology is happening frequently in the country, creating chaos. We are very hopeful that the project will be useful for law enforcement agencies to prevent such chaos,” he told The Daily Star by phone yesterday.

The network will prevent users from browsing any unauthorised or prohibited websites in the country, and also block all the contents that are not “suitable” for Bangladesh or take them down in a minute, documents show.

“It will also be helpful to the law enforcement agencies to monitor internet activities of identified criminals and thus prevent crimes.”

On the other side, it will intrude on people's private life.

“This will also create chances for abuse. So the government needs to put in place some tools to monitor the situation,” said Mostafa Jabbar, former president of Bangladesh Computer Samity.

Jabbar, also a member of the Digital Bangladesh Taskforce headed by the prime minister, said even the recruitment of militant group Islamic State was now done online.

“So the system should be put in place. It is important to have technology that can detect the spread of militancy, fundamentalism and radical ideas through online.

“But at the same time, we need to uphold people's right to freedom of speech,” he added.

The government-funded project will cost Tk 82.19 crore in 2016-17 and Tk 68.32 crore in the following year.

The home ministry, the telecom regulator and the law enforcing agencies will all have access to the platform and they will make any major decisions together.

Two years ago, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission took up a similar project styled “Internet Safety Solutions” but it did not see the light of the day.

About the latest move, Abu Saeed Khan, a senior policy fellow of LIRNEasia, a regional ICT policy and regulation think-tank based in Sri Lanka, said it was a combination of surveillance and enforcement.

A similar cell named National Telecom Monitoring Cell (NTMC) has been working under the home ministry since February 2014. It conducts lawful interception to help intelligence and law enforcement agencies ensure state security.

So, Saeed said, the new project is a duplication of the same thing.

He added the resources of the NTMC are equally shared by all segments of the security agencies. Therefore, it is only practical that the NTMC handle the issue.

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