From Digital to Cyber Security Act: Thoughts of the Politicians.

01 March 2024
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‘The Digital Security Act’ (DSA) enacted in 2018 has been reformed into the ‘Cyber Security Act’ (CSA) in 2023 after having much criticism atboth home and abroad for its misuse. The act gives law enforcement agencies the power to arrest anyone, search any premises, and seize any equipment without a warrant, requiring only suspicion that a crime has been committed using social media.

On 27February 2024, the Centre for Governance Studies organized a webinar titled "Digital to Cyber Security Act: Thoughts of the Politicians " to discuss the experience of the victims and the dimensions of the newly adopted CSA 2023. It is mentionable that since 2020, the Centre for Governance Studies has been tracking down cases filed under DSA. After the reform, a total of 18 cases have been recorded under CSA till now.

The discussants of the webinar were Nazrul Islam Babu, Member of parliament from Awami league; Golam Maula Rony, Former Member of Parliament and BNP leader; Ruhin Hossain Prince, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB);Zonayed Saki, Chief Coordinator of Ganosamhati Andolan and Nurul Haque Nur, President of Gono Odhikar Parishad and former VP of DUCSU.

The chair of the webinar was Dr. Manjur A. Chowdhury, the Chairman of CGS. The program was moderated by Zillur Rahman, the Executive Director of CGS. 

At the beginning of the webinar, Zillur Rahman pointed out the dark side of DSA-2018, under which filed cases are still running despite the law beingamended as CSA in 2023. CGS has been arranging webinars and publishing reports on this for a few years now. He stated that this law can be misinterpreted by anyone to punish individuals like politicians and journalists. Even the current Justice of Bangladesh Supreme Court, Sheikh Hassan Arif yesterday (26th February) in a program with the journalists termed CSA as dangerous if not implemented wisely. It is seen as a barrier to forming a democratic Bangladesh. It is a great regret that even dead people are prosecuted under DSA and the accused are not released due to long delays in trial another drawback of this black law. Similarly, a total of 18 cases have been filed under the new CSA law where 10 journalists and 8 politicians have been accused. 

Nazrul Islam Babu has pointed out that Bangladesh has evolved into a ‘Digital Bangladesh’ through its unprecedented development in recent years. Thus, the creation of ‘The Digital Security Act – 2018’ is part of that progress only. He added, “Why should people be afraid of it who are innocent and not involved in any crime.?” According to him the sole purpose of this act is to safeguard the country’s citizens and reduce criminal propensity. In the past also, ‘Special Powers Act’ has been introduced time by time for the sake of preserving state security and every government has been using them as a tool of dictatorship. The unprecedented flourishment of the internet system has made information reach millions of people’s doorstep creating new horizons. As a result, crimes related to digital hacking have also increased manifold, so the government has formed DSA to tackle such crimes. He who illegally breaks state-led rules must be punished at any cost.

“Cyber Security Act is the most draconian law, Bangladesh has formulated currently”, stated Golam Maula Rony. As a core victim of this law in the past, he feels it is an inessential law that has no solid ground for enactment. He is of the view that Bangladesh didn’t need to have this law when concerned cases could have been punishable under the existing panel court already. If the government fails to grow a ‘Sense of responsibility and respect’ among its citizens towards the country’s laws, then no law can ever be successful in dispelling crime in the first place. He also condemned the process of drafting DSA by practicing lawyers who had shallow knowledge of lawmaking. No matter how much justification the Law Minister gives in support of the new CSA law, the bona fide intent of the legislation is absent in this case.

Ruhin Hossain Prince regretted that the demand to abolish ‘The Digital Security Act-2018’ was mercilessly rejected by the Bangladesh government even after so much criticism by all spheres of people. Public opinion was not taken into consideration, just a few changes brought to a few clauses under the law. According to him, DSA was introduced on the cornerstone of ‘Fear’ and to sustain the regime of fear among the people by excluding the people. He also proposed that we should not stop raising our voices against the wrong no matter what which is our right too. He even questioned why the government did not involve its common people’s opinion while drafting DSA if it was an inclusive state system. Emphasizing the importance of public involvement during the webinar, he concluded that only by securing the freedom of expression of every citizen, Bangladesh can progress ahead. 

We already are well aware of people’s amount of harassment and persecution under the DSA law. Junaid Saki emphasized the ‘Culture of terror’ prevailing in Bangladesh where no one is allowed to criticize the government's actions. It seems to be a crime here and DSA is the perfect example of suppressing common people’s voice legally. The freedom of voice that we got after a bloody liberation war has been silenced through this law. Whether a law is democratic or not depends on whether it is upholding or taking away people’s rights. Similarly, Bangladesh has no transparency while making laws. When a law is monopolized in the hands of a country’s police force unit, its use becomes itself a misuse. He gave the example of the ‘Quota reform movement’ here that is still running in court for years now. Only by changing this ‘Totalitarian regime’ we can bring change to such hostile laws. 

Nurul Haque Nur reflected on the dysfunctional state system prevailing in Bangladesh where people get arrested for ‘Cases in absentia’. Clause 19 mentions ‘Defamation’ but there is no proper definition or clarification on ‘Defamation’ enunciated in CSA law.Also, the vague definition of treason and defamation paved the way for its misuse. Ironically, incidents like several cases that have been filed in different districts against one person on the same charge were also reported. Out of 10 non-bailable clauses, only 4 have been changed but are not properly followed yet. There is a high chance that journalists can be harmed under CSA law, especially by the 21, 23, 25, 27, and 28 clauses.History knows how the government uses these laws to reaffirm their power, for example, he mentioned the creation of RAB during BNP tenure which got countrywide opposition including AL but after coming into power, the latter did not abolish RAB force. The money laundering issue of Bangladesh Bank as well as the leaking of millions of citizens’ national NID information etc. clearly showed us that no proper accountability or transparency work in Bangladesh. 

Dr. Manjur A. Chowdhury concluded the webinar by expressing concern over the severity of the ‘DSA Law’ that allowed indiscriminate arrest of innocent people by misusing this act. A simple like or comment of a person in the cyber world can be tagged as a conspiration. Not all laws drafted in our country’s constitution are in favor of public interest and ‘The Indemnity Ordinance 1975’ is one of them. The CSA claims to secure national data, however, unfortunately, incidents like the issue of Rohingyas allegedly fleeing Bangladesh using fake NID and passports, crores of money getting smuggled out of Bangladesh but no one is being arrested orare not given a proper explanation from the government side. Such restrictive laws need to be repealed, he added in his speech.