The government is going to install a filter for sensitive content at the internet gateways of the country which would hamper free flow of information.
The filter would be effective for all data passing through gateways and sites like Facebook, Twitter and different blogs. Even news websites could be affected.
At a conference at Dubai in December, the International Telecommunication Union, which operates under the United Nations, proposed a global system that would allow state control over the internet. Democratic countries opposed the idea.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission intends to use a software and hardware based solution touted as “Internet Safety Solution”.
The BTRC even called for expressions of interest from international vendors last month through its website. Nearly two dozen companies have submitted their offers for the job.
Through the expression of interest, BTRC seeks a solution to keep Bangladesh safe from harmful internet content and material that threaten national unity and solidarity, and are derogatory to religious beliefs, or are obscene, indecent and morally inappropriate.
A BTRC official claimed that the move was being made to prevent online propaganda using religious sentiments, false pictures and news to trigger unrest in the country.
In the last few months, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the pro-Jamaat student body Islami Chhatra Shibir's online propaganda successfully instigated countrywide violence, the official said, adding that such filtering would be able to prevent such ploys.
However, the move actually stemmed from search-engine giant Google's refusal to take down the trailer of a religiously sensitive film from its website Youtube.com. Bangladesh even asked Google to install a mirror server for Bangladesh nine months ago so that such videos could be filtered out.
BTRC Chairman Sunil Kanti Bose said when Google refused to set up a mirror server to block Bangladeshis from accessing the much talked about film clip of “Innocence of Muslims” that criticised the prophet Mohammad (pbuh), the government had to block Youtube.
At that point, the BTRC took the initiative to set up a filtering system.
Bose admitted that the Internet Safety Solution could become a tool of any non-democratic or autocratic government to take away freedom of speech.
He said, “The BTRC will not allow misuse.”
He claimed that all data would not be monitored. “It will not harm the free flow of internet,” he added.
Internet technology expert Sabir Ahmed Sumon said one can use safety solutions for good and bad purposes. And of course, it will hamper a free flow of internet, he said.
Another expert noted that it would be a costly filtering system which might affect common users and not those who spread propaganda. “People [who spread propaganda] always find a way of overcoming restrictions,” he said.