Data Protection Act: Darkness yet to be dispelled

In the context of communal violence in the 90’s, writers and intellectuals took initiative to publish a book under the title of ‘Darkness yet to be dispelled’. The government’s proposed Data Protection Act reminds us of that title. This is because the government has not budged from its position despite concerns of the United Nations and several local and foreign organisations regarding the act. The provision of keeping data inside the country has been relaxed a though.

Even in the new draft, excessive power has been vested in the executive, said a Prothom Alo report. There are provisions that can support government’s collection of data whenever it wishes, and threatens human rights and freedom of expression. The government’s ICT division posted the new draft in its website on Tuesday. Earlier, the ICT division published the draft of the act for the first time in March last year seeking stakeholders’ opinion on it. Since then several drafts have been drawn up. Several local and foreign organisations, rights organisations, foreign missions, financial institutions, social media and e-commerce firms gave their opinions and observations on the draft.

Publishing the draft online suggests the government has felt a necessity to amend the act, said IT experts. But the draft is still very much rules-based. Another matter of concern is the definition and standard of privacy has not been mentioned in the draft.

Though the new draft mentioned about keeping the data within the country, it kept scope of transferring data for international trade, international relations and any other necessity to be fixed by the government. This might lessen the concerns of foreign investors. The stakeholders also demanded time for their preparation before implementing the law. The new draft gave three years’ time for such preparation from the date of passage of the act.

The main issue of concern in the new draft is the director general of the data safety agency can order the data processor or any other concerned person to provide any data. The government can collect any data it seeks. Different organisations proposed to form a separate data protection agency under the data protection act. But the government has proposed to do the job through a separate agency like any other government agency. It can be said that the proposed government agency will certainly not provide protection to the citizens, especially because, even the independent and autonomous bodies in Bangladesh works as subordinates of the government.

Scores of bitter experiences regarding the Digital Security Act have made people apprehensive of the new act. A way has to be found out of the situation. Sadly, the ruling quarters cannot realise that they would be the biggest victim of the act when they will not be in power.

Another provision of the draft act said a person cannot go to court directly even if his rights are violated. This contravenes the constitutional rights of citizens. The statements of civil society representatives clarifies that their worries have not been dispelled regarding the data protection act. They also wished to hold another meeting with the law minister.

Personal rights cannot be breached in the name of the interests of the country. Digital systems are a global reality. However, there cannot be any provision in the data protection act that encroaches the citizens’ privacy and hampers business.