Cyber Security Act likely to be more repressive: Experts
The proposed act retains existing definitions of offences, with penalties remaining largely consistent across most sections. Notably, the Digital Security Agency, responsible for implementing and enforcing the act, has been effectively renamed as the Cyber Security Agency
The government has enacted and used digital security laws to suppress dissent. The definition and clauses of various offences are largely left the same in the proposed Cyber Security Act as Digital Security Act (DSA). It is thus apprehended that the proposed cyber security law will also curtail freedom of expression instead of providing security to people. Therefore, the Cyber Security Act is feared to turn out to be another repressive law like DSA.
These issues were raised at a webinar titled 'Digital security, advanced democracy and Bangladesh'. Among the speakers were senior journalists, university teachers and human rights activists. The webinar was organised by the Centre for Governance Studies (CGS) on Saturday morning.
Journalist and columnist Kamal Ahmed was the key speaker in the webinar. He presented a paper titled 'Advanced democracy in digital security and us'. Reports suggest that the Digital Security Act is currently undergoing a nominal transition to the Cyber Security Act, following criticism that it has been employed as a tool for suppressing citizens.
A review of the draft of the proposed law and the Digital Security Act shows that the changes include, first, reduction of punishment in some cases and extension of bailable provisions
The proposed act retains existing definitions of offences, with penalties remaining largely consistent across most sections. Notably, the Digital Security Agency, responsible for implementing and enforcing the act, has been effectively renamed as the Cyber Security Agency.
In his article, Kamal Ahmed discusses digital security or cyber security acts and its implementation in various countries including the European Union (EU), United Kingdom, and other developed countries.
In those countries, human rights are placed at utmost importance of cyber security, the article reads. There are separate laws on freedom of expression, freedom of thought and opinion, and the right to individual privacy, which were not incorporated in the proposed Cyber Security Act.
The article highlights that western law does not endeavour to safeguard against defamation or political ideals and beliefs. Furthermore, it points out the perilous aspects of the Bangladesh law, particularly the disproportionate authority granted to both the digital security agency and the police, which has already been abused.
Even in cases where citizens' privacy is compromised due to governmental institutions' negligence or inefficiency, there is a lack of accountability mechanisms within the legal framework for these entities. The resemblance to European or UK laws is confined solely to the name 'DSA,' the acronym for the law's title, and not to citizens' preferences.
Kamal Ahmed said that the DSA has given protection to the government and politicians in power. As a result, this law has been used to suppress dissent for political purpose. The sections of this law which have undermined the freedom of expression must be amended. The law also needs to clarify the definition of various crime.
The government published the draft of the proposed Cyber Security Act on 9 August on the website of the Digital Security Agency under the Department of Information and Communication Technology. A review of the draft of the proposed law and the Digital Security Act shows that the changes include, first, reduction of punishment in some cases and extension of bailable provisions.
Secondly, to add a provision of fine instead of imprisonment for the offense of publication and dissemination of defamatory information (if proved). The provisions in DSA raising objections and concerns of various organisations including the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the Editors’ Council have not been removed in the proposed law.
During yesterday's webinar, Distinguished Professor Ali Riaz, of the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University, USA, emphasised that nine sections of the Digital Security Act seriously encroach upon freedom of expression. These problematic clauses are also present in the proposed Cyber Security Act.
Notably, the Digital Security Act delegates substantial judicial responsibilities to the police, and this status quo remains unchanged in the proposed legislation. The proposed Cyber Security Act is anticipated to exhibit even more stringent characteristics.
Nurul Kabir, editor of English daily New Age, commented that the new law has been rebranded as "Cyber Security Act". He said the government is renaming the Digital Security Act as it has gained negative reputation for its oppressive nature. He considered this name change to be cheating the people and the pro-democracy global community.
Faruq Faisel, regional director for South Asia at Article 19, said even ministers said the digital security law had been abused. Any misuse of this law should be judicially investigated.
Asif Bin Ali, a lecturer in the Department of Media and Journalism at North South University, highlighted that there exists minimal difference between the Digital Security Act and the proposed Cyber Security Act. He noted that critiquing the government is regarded as an offence under the law. Ambiguity still persists in the definition of various crimes. The police have been granted unrestricted powers.
Researcher and human rights activist Rozina Begum commented that if the proposed Cyber Security Act and Digital Security Act are placed side by side, there would be confusion. She said, the clauses of the two laws are almost identical. The law provides authority to take action before the crime is committed, a power that has been observed to be utilised for political purposes.
The webinar was moderated by CGS Executive Director Zillur Rahman, who noted that the process by which laws are formulated in the developed world differs from that of the proposed cyber security law. He emphasised that citizens have been overlooked in the context of this law.