“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” – Voltaire.
There is nothing more patriotic or sacred than the act of dissent. It is neither synonymous, nor tantamount to disloyalty. Dissent helps breed varied opinions, personifies democracy in its most functional nature. Yet we see laws like the ICT Act (Amendment) 2013 designed with the sole aim of punishing dissent.
Under this law, one could be arrested and denied bail, sentenced up to 14 years of imprisonment, and fined up to ten lakh taka for publishing content online that the state sees as “untrue and obscene”. The police do not need warrants to arrest someone and monitor his confidential correspondences on the phone or online. Private information collected without warrants can be admissible in a court of law!
The language in the new Act is vague as to the nature of the offence – “…defamation, deterioration of law and order situation, tarnishing the image of the state or individuals and hurting people’s religious sentiments….” – so dissent in essence.
While we do not have any definitive guidelines to determine whether an offence has been committed, by omitting legal checks such as warrants, the law gives the state unlimited prosecutorial powers. The law circumvents our constitutional rights regarding freedom of expression and privacy.
My expectations for the ICT Act Amendment were high. Foreign entities steal our personal data, hack into our personal profiles online, transfer data illegally to third parties who send us unsolicited emails and advertisements to our browsers. The worst part is they get away with it because they are not part of our jurisdiction. The ICT Act could have addressed that if it were truly designed to protect public interest.
Instead of addressing the more critical issues of illicit data theft and data sharing policies by web companies, unsolicited direct marketing, etc. by companies that do not fall under our jurisdiction according to present laws, our parliament passed a bill that only safeguards the powerful from being criticized.
A cursory look at our new ICT law would show any conscientious person how unfaithful our lawmakers are to our democratic precepts, never mind the promise of a “Digital Bangladesh”! Laws such as the ICT Act 2013 only help our state become more archaic and incompetent for a democracy.