Why would the state consider citizens the enemy?

A report was published in Prothom Alo, citing Israeli newspaper Haaretz, that Israel would not sell its phone-hacking technology to Bangladesh. It reveals two bitter truths and that a matter of concern for citizens. Firstly, it proved the government has used phone tapping technology to collect data on citizens. Secondly, Israeli firm Cellebrite has decided to stop selling the phone-hacking technology because its hardware was used by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) that is accused of extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. They have also chosen not to do business in Belarus, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Russia and Venezuela.

The explanation by home minister Asaduzzaman Khan hardly refutes the allegations. Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen made similar remarks after the investigative report of Al Jazeera several months ago. According to them, there are no diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Israel, so technology can't be purchased from Israel. If the ministers’ claims were true, people would feel relieved. But the reality is the government has purchased the phone-hacking technology from Israel through a third party since there is no diplomatic relations. Israel provided this technology through a business firm based in Singapore.

According to the Prothom Alo report, RAB officials visited Singapore in 2018 and 2019 to receive training on Cellebrite technology. There is an allegation that surveillance technology has been purchased from not only from Singapore firm but also from the firm based in Hungary.

The people's fundamental rights and privacy are being violated as the propensity towards authoritarian rule rises globally. Recently, another Israeli firm NSO Group and its product Pegasus spyware hogged the headlines. Evidence was found to have used the technology to spy on presidents, prime ministers, politicians, government officials, human rights activists and journalists of various countries. Though no one from Bangladesh was named in The Pegasus report but it created outcry in India.

The constitution of Bangladesh ensures the freedom of citizens in addition to the protection of individual privacy. Yet, telephone conversation of people from various professions including politicians, especially the opposition politicians, and journalists, are often being leaked in the country. And, it’s not possible for anyone to do so without the help of the state agencies. In this case, national security concern is made an excuse and it mainly used against political opponents and dissidents. Western countries require courts’ persimmon to do so but no one bothers about all that in our country. A field level official of the law enforcement agencies decides on whose phone would be tapped or not. Apart from political reasons, telephone conversation has been leaked to gain personal and collective interests.

Spying on citizens can’t continue in any democratic state. Bangladesh claims to be a democratic state. So, why would the country consider its citizens to be enemies and tap their phones in the name of surveillance? The culture of spying on citizens must stop.