Cyber Security Act: It’s DSA, only renamed
The draft Cyber Security Act (CSA), which would replace the controversial Digital Security Act, criminalises freedom of expression of the citizens, and is essentially a renamed version of the DSA, said Transparency International Bangladesh.
The draft contains all provisions of the DSA that curbed freedom of speech, dissent, freedom of thought and conscience, and particularly the freedom of the press and independent journalism, the graft watchdog said at a press conference yesterday.
"The fundamental weakness of the Digital Security Act -- curbing freedom of expression, speech and the media -- is also there in the draft law in terms of its spirit and wording," said TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman.
He expressed concern that the new law might be repressive.
"The proposed Cyber Security Act will be identified as a black law like the Digital Security Act if the draft law is passed unchanged."
The hint that a person will be in trouble if he shares his views freely on social media platforms is also there in the draft law, he added.
TIB recommended the draft CSA be thoroughly reviewed to enact a "genuine" cyber security law that would truly serve the purpose of ensuring the security of cyber infrastructure, computer and internet systems, digital platforms and other components of the cyber system.
A total of 7,001 cases had been filed under the DSA across the country as of January 31 since the law came into force in 2018.
Opposition politicians, journalists, businesspeople, students, and workers of firms were the majority of the accused in DSA cases, and people mostly from the ruling party affiliates prosecuted journalists, said TIB.
In June last year, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a technical note to the Bangladesh government recommending revisions to the DSA due to its vague and overly-broad rules that criminalises various legitimate forms of expression and impose harsh penalties, including life imprisonment for repeat offenders.
It also said the law has provisions that do not allow bail and leaves scope for pre-trial detention.
The UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression also called for repealing the DSA, highlighting concerns about arbitrary detention, torture, custodial death of journalists, and the chilling impact on journalism.
Amid growing demand from home and abroad, the cabinet on August 7 decided to replace the DSA with the proposed CSA.
Two days later, the CSA draft was published on the website of the ICT department, seeking views from stakeholders within August 22.
However, the cabinet on August 28 approved the draft CSA without consulting any stakeholders.
According to the TIB, the formulation of the draft is also controversial.
Iftekharuzzaman said the government had initiated a good practice of involving stakeholders in the formulation of important laws, but this practice has not been followed so far in the case of CSA.
"I think there is still time for consultation with stakeholders," he said.
The graft watchdog said the draft law is essentially a renamed version of the DSA, with only a few changes in the form of reduced punishments.
TIB thanked the government for the changes, but expressed concern that the draft law puts people's fundamental rights at risk.
It urged the government to include all stakeholders, including independent legal and technical experts, sector specialists with knowledge and expertise on international best practices, human rights orgnaisations, journalists and other professionals, in the process of "overhauling the draft".
Iftekharuzzaman said remedies can be found under the existing laws for defamation and other crimes committed in cyberspace.
"We don't think that there is any logic to prosecute people for such offences under a different law," he added.
TIB said covering cybersecurity and cybercrimes in a single law is a problematic approach.
The naming of the law -- Cyber Security Act – indicates that it would focuses on safeguarding digital infrastructure and systems from cyber threats. However, the inclusion of cybercrimes in the same law can create a misleading and problematic legal framework, it observed.
Law Minister Anisul Huq on Tuesday said that stakeholders will be called in for discussion on the draft CSA in the parliamentary standing committee meeting.