Scope of journalism has narrowed further

When the Digital Security Act was enacted in 2018, the government assured that it would not be used against journalists. However, a significant number of the cases under this act were filed against journalists in the past four years.

Many journalists have become victims of this law and many have been languishing in prison. Many cases are ongoing. Meanwhile, the announcement of critical information infrastructure of 29 government institutions under Section 15 of the Digital Security Act has raised concerns.

The Department of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) of the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology issued a notification on 21 September. Information infrastructure is the computer system or network of an organization or an institution, where information is stored. But the government has instead declared 29 institutions as critical information infrastructure, which is questionable and misleading.

According to the notification, illegal access to critical information infrastructure can be tried with seven years imprisonment or a maximum fine of Tk 2.5 million or both. Unlawful access causing damage or attempting to cause damage shall be penalised with imprisonment for 14 years or with a maximum fine of Tk 10 million or with both.

It can be assumed that the announcement of 29 institutions as important infrastructure for the sake of national security is nothing but an attempt to hide the irregularities and corruption of these organisations. Despite various limitations, the Anti-Corruption Commission has taken action against government institutions and officials, the basis of which is mainly the news published in the media. ACC has also admitted this in their various reports.

Notably the important infrastructure of the government includes the President's Office, Prime Minister's Office, National Board of Revenue, Power Development Board, four state-owned banks, Titas Gas, Bangladesh Telecommunication Company, Biman Bangladesh Airlines and so on. Again, the ministry of defence, ministry of home affairs, armed forces, national parliament, the judiciary, the health sector, the audit department are not in the list. Does the government think that these organisations do not need digital security?

The government has imposed various restrictions on journalists' access to service institutions. Such restrictions are against people's fundamental right to information. Not only will the media suffer, but the public will also be deprived of state services. The Digital Security Act has taken away the right to information that the government had provided through the Right to Information Act. The new decision will further restrict media freedom.

Following this announcement of the government, the journalist community has already expressed concern. Many organisations working on information and human rights have also expressed concern. In the age of modern information technology, where transparency and accountability are expected in all government activities, such restrictions only shows their weakness.

The explanation given by the Department of Information and Communication Technology in this regard is also not acceptable. Journalists have been opposed to digital security act since its inception.

We demand the withdrawal of the infrastructure announcement made on the basis of that law. We believe Like the Digital Security Act, the Critical Information Infrastructure will be used as another tool of control.