Cyber Security Act: Most suggestions go unheeded
The Cabinet yesterday approved the final draft of the Cyber Security Act (CSA), which is to replace the Digital Security Act.
However, the approved bill is a spitting image of the very law it means to improve on.
Other than minor changes, the newly approved draft of the CSA remains the same as the one first presented to the Cabinet earlier this month.
Briefing reporters after the meeting, Cabinet Secretary Md Mahbub Hossain said, "In the draft law, the offences under four sections are non-bailable, while those under the other sections are bailable."
The four are sections 17, 19, 27 and 33, he said, adding that these sections deal with illegal entry into critical information infrastructure, damage to computers and computer systems, including collection or removal of data, cyberterrorism and hacking.
Mahbub further said the cases already filed under the DSA will remain under it, as a provision was incorporated in the proposed law in this regard.
The Cabinet meeting that approved the final draft was chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the Prime Minister's Office.
Ministry sources said the new bill, once passed into a law, will have safeguards against the filing of cases and arrest without a court order for all but the four cognisable sections.
On August 9, the CSA draft was published on the website of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Department, seeking the views of stakeholders, the deadline of which was August 22.
Abu Sayed Md Kamruzzaman, director general of the Digital Security Agency, told this newspaper that around 900 recommendations were submitted to the ICT ministry, and the new draft was placed before the Cabinet six days after the deadline.
Asked how many of the recommendations were considered while making the changes, he mentioned the four sections that were made bailable.
However, rights organisations had made many recommendations for major changes in the draft law regarding the nature of the offences themselves.
Experts had pointed out that the draft retained all but one offence from the DSA.
Amnesty International in a letter to the ICT ministry had said, "The only changes the CSA makes are related to sentencing, which can be summarised as follows: lowering the maximum applicable prison sentence for eight offences, removing a sentence of imprisonment for two offences, increasing the maximum applicable fine for three offences and removing the higher applicable penalty for all repeat offences."
Multiple organisations had proposed decriminalisation of defamation, which the August 7 draft still retained.
Meanwhile, section 42 of the CSA is identical to section 43 of the DSA and continues to allow any law enforcer to search premises, seize computers and similar hardware, search the body of a person and arrest a person present in that place without a warrant, said Amnesty.
"The police officers must believe: that a crime under the act has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur or that any evidence is likely to be lost, destroyed, deleted or altered or made unavailable in any way. They are simply required to record the reasons for such belief."
The human rights organisation called the act overly-permissive and suggested that powers of the police be clearly and narrowly defined.
A civil rights platform called Nagorik pointed out that 14 days is a very limited period for providing any feedback on the draft law.
They recommended the introduction of a legislative measure such as a bill to repeal the DSA, and to safeguard cyber space and internet freedom.
Likewise, another platform -- Forum for Freedom of Expression Bangladesh -- had stated that 11 sections of the proposed act are inconsistent with the constitution, fundamental human rights and the rule of law.
It further said that section 42, which provides for arrest without a warrant, was not much different from section 43 of the DSA. This leaves room for the act to become harassing and restrictive, creating opportunities to undermine internationally recognised human rights.
Furthermore, no stakeholders were invited to preview the final draft before approval at the Cabinet yesterday.
A group of civil society members met Law Minister Anisul Huq on March 30, and submitted a recommendation pointing out that the law is being misused, and that the only solution would be to repeal it and draft a new one.
This group, however, was never called for a follow-up meeting again.