The Ministry of Home recently asked the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), the intelligence and the law enforcement agencies to strengthen monitoring of social media to check the spread of propaganda for creating anarchy. The ministry has come up with this directive at a time when some vested quarters have been trying to create anarchic situation in the country by spreading propaganda through social media like Facebook, Twitter and You Tube.
Recently one person was killed and 20 others were injured after police fired rubber bullets and teargas shells as violence flared up in Horkoli Thakurpara village of Rangpur district over an alleged Facebook post demeaning Islam.
At least 30 houses owned by Hindu families were burned and vandalised as religious zealots ran riot in the village and staged demonstrations blocking Dinajpur-Rangpur highway. The law enforcers took action triggering a clash that left seven policemen, among others, injured.
In October last year, religious zealots carried out a synchronised attack on some Hindu families in Brahmanbaria’s Nasirnagar upazila, destroying around 100 homes and at least five temples and looting valuables. The violence was triggered by a Facebook post purportedly from the account of one Rasraj Das for hurting religious sentiments of Muslims. Rasraj, a fisherman, was freed on bail several months ago as police found evidence that someone else, not he, posted the anti-Islam content through either hacking or faking his Facebook account.
In September 2012, religious zealots attacked the Buddhist community in Cox’s Bazar’s Ramu, claiming that a Buddhist youth insulted Islam on social media. Police investigation found that the Facebook page was photo-shopped. According to media reports, a number of people are spreading propaganda from home and abroad via online news portals and blogs. They have uploaded objectionable videos and distorted photographs, made derogatory comment against the government, some of its organisations. Sometimes these propagandists open fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and other social media platforms and provoke militant groups by making derogatory comments against certain religious faiths.
A newspaper report said quoting a high official in the security service division of the home ministry, that they have sounded the alert after getting an intelligence report on certain groups who are using the social media to spread propaganda against the government, its organisations, and certain religious faiths to destabilise the country. “We have also asked the BTRC and the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Division to watch closely the sites, blogs, online portals, and different social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube so that these people cannot create an untoward incident using the social media,” he said.
The draft Digital Security Act 2016, intended to address the need for cyber-crime legislation, according to the authorities, was approved on August 22, 2016, by the Cabinet. But some members of civil society, media and activists expressed their concerns over the draft law impinging upon people’s freedom of expression. “Subject to any reasonable restrictions”, our Constitution guarantees as a fundamental right, “the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression”. The draft Digital Security Act, 2016, may unreasonably deny this right and restrict critical thinking, the questioning of the status quo, and take away from individuals one of their most powerful weapons — the right to speak freely without fear, they observed.
It is learnt the ICT Division has not yet been able to finalise the draft of the Digital Security Act to deal with cyber crimes, even though the Cabinet approved it in principle on August 22, 2016. The draft law has the provision for life sentence and a fine of Tk. one crore for anyone involved in propaganda against the 1971 Liberation War and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The ICT Act specifies issues related to electronic and computer networks like electronic signatures, electronic data interchanges, electronic forms, computer memory, electronic records, email, data messages, websites, and optical fibre systems.
The Digital Security Act specifies all digital matters like critical infrastructure, e-transactions, e-payments, data corruption, computer data, all digital devices, digital or computer networks, data traffic, digital forgery, digital pornography, digital information systems, digital communications, passwords, voice data, biological or physical information programmes, apps, service providers, and social media, among others. The government is also planning to enact a new law titled ‘The National Enterprise Architect (NEA) Act’ to protect its web portals from hackers.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina put emphasis on enhancing capacity building to ensure cyber security and announced formation of a high-powered Digital Security Council in this regard. She also said Bangladesh will establish world-class digital forensic lab, cyber security agency, cyber evidence response team under the Digital Security Act-2016. “We have to increase capacity for facing threats of cyber security. We will create skilled manpower and procure machinery for ensuring our cyber security,” she said.
According to International Telecommunication Union (ITC), Bangladesh’s position on the readiness of cyber security is 79 out of 105 countries. In the ITC’s report published recently, Bangladesh scored 0.294 out of one. The report placed India (0.706), Sri Lanka (0.412), Thailand (0.412) and even Myanmar (0.382) ahead of Bangladesh on cyber security readiness. The USA secured first position scoring 0.824.
The cyber world which is at its peak now, is not danger-free altogether. There are plenty of thieves, robbers, killers, cheats, and thugs in this world. Cyber security means, keeping the cyber world free from all sorts of incidents that hinder the free and fair use of the internet. The ICT Division has already introduced a number of awareness building projects for prevention of cyber crime. The Division has promulgated two guidelines which are helpful for cyber crime control. These are the Information Security Guidelines 2014 and the National Cyber Security Strategy of Bangladesh 2014.
Admittedly, cyber crimes are rising alarmingly with the massive advancement of information and communications technology. Its unethical use has become cause of social decay in different fields. The trained cyber criminals are continuing their misdeeds by utilising proxy keeping own identity concealed. The popular social communications media, such as facebook and twitter are becoming boomerang for many us because of the cyber criminals.
A popular form of cyber crime in Bangladesh is the blackmailing of the females. The cyber criminals with a motive target women companions and after winning their trust and confidence emotionally take photos of their targets in the privacy of their trysts. The women are subsequently threatened that these would be put on the Internet if they do not cooperate. So to avoid the effects of these actions on guardians, husbands and society at large, they are blackmailed into paying a certain price as demanded by the criminals.
The social media platforms like the Facebook and Instagram have earned significant growth in the recent days and also increasing at an amazing pace with the increasing use of the internet. According to the BTRC, 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 various steps taken by various government agencies. So, a strong monitoring system is essential for monitoring of social media and also to clamp down on cyber threats and crimes including spread of harmful matters in social media.
The writer is a columnist