Social media users may have to be more cautious about making “unlawful” public remarks and sharing contentious items as it would soon be only a matter of hours for police to trace their origins with the help of special software.
A specialised police unit, expected to start operations in a few months, will be equipped with the software named open source intelligence (OSINT) to mine any remarks or postings that are defamatory, can hurt religious sentiment and can constitute an offence under the ICT Act, police officials said.
The 505-man fully-fledged specialised unit -- Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau -- has already been approved by the home ministry while the import of the OSINT is in the pipeline, the officials added.
“The OSINT is definitely a useful software to help police find cyber offenders as it can monitor the wide cyber world in a short time,” Alimuzzaman, deputy commissioner of Social Media Monitoring and Cyber Security division of the DMP, told The Daily Star on Friday.
Presently, police search contentious items online manually. With OSINT, a search with the word “Bangladesh”, for example, will bring up all social media posts or remarks about Bangladesh.
The search results can be narrowed down by changing words in the search string.
However, rights activists are worried about its misuse and warned that the software might be used for controlling social media users in the name of monitoring ahead of the elections.
“It will come in the way of logical discussions and curb freedom of expression,” said Nur Khan Liton, a noted human rights activist.
People of different opinions and opposing political views may well be the primary victims, he cautioned.
“As there are instances of misuse of law in the country, there is a scope for misuse of the system by law enforcer. We have already seen that common people, journalists, human rights activists and politicians had to pay dearly because of the misuse of section 57 of the ICT law,” he said.
The OSINT is a data mining tool, used for collecting data from publicly available source, like research, newspaper, social sites and gather desired intelligence, said Sumon Ahmed Sabir, chief strategy officer of Fibre@Home, an international internet gateway firm.
“It has both positive and negative sides. It depends on the users to what end it will be used,” he said, adding that many countries use the software to make policy decisions after analysing public discourse.
In a recent order, the home ministry said the cyber bureau was formed to effectively deal with the growing number of cyber and pornography-related crimes.
According to the police headquarters, around 1,417 cases were filed under the ICT act against 2,873 people in the last five years. Of them, 19 were filed in 2012, 48 in 2013, 149 in 2014, 303 in 2015, 546 in 2016 and 352 until June 30 of 2017.
As investigators lack the expertise in cyber crime, they often fail to produce evidence to prove a crime, resulting in the acquittal of accused in 65 percent cases, according to Nazrul Islam Shamim, public prosecutor at the Cyber Tribunal.
A dedicated police unit for investigating ICT cases may ensure punishment in 75 to 80 percent cases, ultimately reducing the crime rate, he added.
Under the ICT Act, police, after investigation, either press charges or submit final report to the Cyber Tribunal, the lone tribunal to deal with these cases.
The tribunal received 763 charge sheets between July 30 last year and 2013, when the act was amended with provisions for harsher punishment, a tribunal source said.
Ninety percent of the cases were filed under section 57, the source said.
Of the 763 cases, 205 have so far been disposed of. Among the 205 cases, 84 were disposed of after trial while the rest were disposed of either after getting final reports or the plaintiffs withdrew the cases.
The PHQ sent a proposal to the home ministry for a 575-member specialised cyber bureau on March 30 last year.
Farooque Ahmed, assistant inspector general (organisation and management) of the PHQ recently said that the proposal was with the public administration ministry after the home ministry gave approval for a 505-member unit.
“We hope that the bureau will start operating within the next three to four months as it needs finance ministry's approval after clearance from the public administration ministry,” he said.
The unit will investigate crimes like hacking of Facebook and twitter accounts, uploading nude pictures or videos on websites, hacking online bank accounts, using abusive words on the internet, comments hurting religious sentiments and other offences.
Saheli Ferdous, assistant inspector general of the PHQ, said in the past, they had no expert officials and had insufficient logistic supports to investigate cases under ICT act. The newly formed unit will be a great help, she said.
At the moment, the DMP's 70-member cyber security division is dedicated for cyber cases. The detective branch also investigates cyber-related incidents but on a small scale.
Around 246 cases were filed with 49 police stations of the DMP under the ICT and pornography act in 2017. The cyber security division was tasked with handling 76 of those cases. So far, it has completed investigation of 28.