Govt blocks 2 messaging services

Widely used by extremists: BTRC

Bangladesh telecom regulator has blocked Threema and Wickr, two highly secured messaging services, along with some blog and Facebook links after receiving requests from intelligence agencies that claimed they spread atheism and criticise Islam.

On Monday, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) blocked the services on suspicion that they were being used by extremists in their networking.

The telecom watchdog had asked all international internet gateway (IIG) operators to block some URLs that link to Somewherein, Muktomona, Nagorik and Nobojug blogs earlier this month, said a source at the BTRC.

On May 5, the BTRC also directed the IIG's to block some Facebook posts of five individuals, terming them “malice to Islam”.

BTRC Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood said the regulator issued the instruction after getting requests from the law enforcement agencies and the home ministry.

“We never go for any blocking on our own. But the BTRC sometimes complies with some requests of different agencies to maintain law and order,” he said.

Set up a decade ago, Somewherein is the most popular blog in the country.

Arild Klokkerhaug, founder of Somewherein Net Ltd, said they have got complaints from the users that they could not access the site since May 4.

A day later, an internet service provider confirmed that it had blocked Somewherein domain upon orders from the BTRC.

“Some IIGs have blocked our full domain, or blocked IP related to our server. Some 20 percent of our users have lost access to,” said Klokkerhaug in an e-mail response to The Daily Star.

At present Somewherein has daily hits between 45,000 and 50,000. It used to be around 60,000 earlier.

Klokkerhaug said they have contacted the telecom regulator several times on this issue but have failed to get any logical response.

A BTRC official said intelligence officials cannot decode messages sent using Threema or Wickr and the services do not allow third parties to hack or unveil the encrypted messages.

“That's why intelligence agencies requested the BTRC to block it immediately,” said the official.

Threema was rolled out in June last year globally and in Bangladesh a few months ago. Currently, it has more than three million users but there is no information about Bangladesh market, said officials.

Wickr, an encrypted messenger with which pictures and audio-videos also could be shared, was launched internationally in 2012.

The BTRC chairman said even though they have ordered the blocking of Threema and Wickr but the technology of the IIG operating in Bangladesh was unable to block one of the messengers. He did not mention which one.

In November last year, the government had blocked social media sites Facebook and online messaging and calling services WhatsApp, Viber with some other services for 22 days after the Supreme Court had upheld the death penalty for war criminals Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed.

The government had also blocked YouTube for about a year in 2012.


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