The government is going to install internet monitoring equipment by May next year to help combat militancy amid growing concerns about extremists using the internet to spread their propaganda and communicate amongst themselves.
The equipment, to be installed under a project, would also help clamp down on cyber threats and crimes, and enforce the ban on pornography. It would enable law enforcers monitor internet activities of people round-the-clock.
The project titled “Cyber Threat Detection and Response” was approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) meeting yesterday.
Under the project, Tk 150 crore would be spent. Internet monitoring equipment, like deep packet inspection (DPI) machines, would be bought to create a network for tackling cyber threats, said officials related to the project.
While the network would assist law enforcement agencies track criminal activities, it would hand enormous power to the government to observe and even control people's online activities. It might encroach upon citizens' private lives as well, said an expert.
Under this project, the government would set up 35 DPI machines, four of them very powerful.
The DPIs would examine and filter data packets as they pass an inspection point. The machines would help the authorities easily monitor people's internet usage, including their browsing, messaging and content downloading activities.
A monitoring centre would be set up at the telecommunication directorate in Tejgaon under Posts and Telecommunications Division. The directorate would control the system and act on behalf of the government, said officials concerned.
All international internet gateways would be connected to this network and a team would monitor online traffic round-the-clock.
The system would also identify users of virtual private networks (VPN), project documents show.
After the Ecnec meeting at the National Economic Council auditorium chaired by the prime minister, Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal told reporters that modern equipment would be purchased under the project and manpower would be trained.
Kamal said cyber crime was a problem not only for Bangladesh, but also for countries across the global.
According to the planning ministry project documents, in many countries, militants and terrorists have been carrying out destructive activities abusing internet technology. Pornography and other objectionable contents were being shown and youths were being pushed towards destruction.
The project proposal said implementation of the project was urgent to control access to harmful websites.
The equipment would prevent users from browsing any website unauthorised or prohibited in the country, and also block contents that were not “suitable” for Bangladesh or take such contents down within minutes, the documents read.
“It will also help law enforcement agencies monitor internet activities of identified criminals and thus prevent crimes,” said an official of the telecommunication directorate.
However, Mostafa Jabbar, president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services, said the project would intrude into people's private lives and create opportunities for abuse.
“In this digital life, we need digital security. But at the same time people's freedom of speech and freedom of expression need to be upheld,” he said.
Jabbar, also a member of the Digital Bangladesh Taskforce headed by the prime minister, said the government needs to ensure people's privacy as well as their security.
According to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission data, around 12.50 crore people use mobile phones in the country and six crore use the internet. Very soon the number of internet users would be similar to the number of mobile phone users due to steps taken by various government agencies.
The project proposal had been placed before the Ecnec last year but it was sent back for revisions. The revised proposal was placed before the Ecnec yesterday.
The Ecnec yesterday approved 12 new and revised projects, involving Tk 10,148 crore. Of the amount, Tk 3,600 crore would be from donors.