Govt officials being granted indemnity

In the final draft of the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) regulation, government officials have been granted indemnity.

It has been stated that if anyone is harmed in any way by means of any action carried out in good faith by any minister or government officials, no case can be filed for compensation in this connection.

The commission's lawyer Khandakar Reza-e-Raquib said that on Wednesday BTRC has submitted the final draft of the 'Regulation for Digital and Social Media Platforms, 2021' to the High Court.

A new clause regarding indemnity has been added to the final draft. This clause hadn't been in the draft earlier.

According to the new clause, if any person is harmed by any action carried out in good faith to implement any directive or order under this regulation, no case for compensation can be filed against the minister, any government employee, the BTRC chairman or commission or any other official, employee or consultant.

The clause related to indemnity in the final draft of the regulation goes on to state that BTRC or any government establishment will not be responsible for any losses, harm, financial claims and expenditure incurred by any licenced organisation.

When asked about the matter of indemnity for government officials, teacher of the law department of BRAC University, Saimum Reza, raised questions as to whether such a clause for indemnity of the government servants was not actually in contradiction to the constitution.

In his written response, he said that the constitution speaks of the equality of all people and people's right to resort to the law. Also, Article 10 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states that everyone is entitled to full equality, public hearing and impartial tribunal. And Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says all persons shall be equal before courts and tribunals... everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing.

Further changes in the final draft

In the earlier regulation of BTRC, it was compulsory to identify the first originator (source) of any prohibited message. Social media platforms like Facebook raised objections to this clause. They said that their users' messages remained encrypted. BTRC dropped this clause in the latest draft. Speaking about the matter to Prothom Alo, the BTRC lawyer Khandakar Reza-e-Raquib said that the views of various stakeholders were taken into consideration in the draft submitted to the court.

A new clause has been added so that, in order to ensure effective implementation of this regulation, BTRC can issue directives from time to time.

This too is a cause for concern, according to the BRAC University teacher Saimum Reza. He said, instead of simply leaving the matter involving fundamental rights up to an organisation of the executive, the judiciary should also be involved so that there is no scope to misuse the law.  This draft also has provision for administrative fines in the case of digital and social media.

The changes

There have been a number of other changes in the new draft. For example, earlier it has been compulsory for the social media platforms to preserve information for 120 days. That has been reduced to 90 days.

Certain areas of concern that existed previously, remain in the new draft. For example, it was mandatory to remove prohibited content at one's own initiative, it was mandatory to provide due information within 72 hours when asked by the government, and it was also mandatory to remove within 24 hours any unlawful content regarding Bangladesh posted within Bangladesh or from outside the country.

Information ministry policies

Meanwhile, the state has asked for an update on the progress made so far on the information ministry's 'Content-based Over the Top (OTT) service provision and operation' draft policy.

On Wednesday, the High Court bench of justice JBM Hasan and justice Raziq-Al Jalil fixed 29 November for this order.

Earlier on 13 June, the High Court had asked for an update on the progress made in the final policy regarding the prevention of unethical and objectionable videos on various OTT-based web platforms, as well as the supervision and revenue collection from these platforms.

BTRC was ordered to provide the update within three months and that is why the issue was raised in court on Wednesday. Lawyer Tanveer Ahmed argued in favour of the petition while the state was represented by deputy attorney general Tushar Kanti Roy.