Transparency International Bangladesh has called upon all parliament members, including the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology, to thoroughly reform the "Draft Cyber Security Bill 2023" in the light of international practices, and discussions with relevant experts and stakeholders.
The organisation on 7 September sent a working paper titled "Digital Security Act 2018 to Draft Cyber Security Act 2023: Comparative Review and Recommendations" by email, calling on all parliamentarians including the relevant standing committee members and ministers to play a strong role to ensure that the bill does not become a tool for taking away freedom of opinion, thought, conscience, speech, and media, like the Digital Security Act did.
In a message sent along with the working paper, TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman, said, "The decision to repeal the DSA (Digital Security Act) and enact the proposed Cyber Security Act 2023 in its place proves that the government has realised the validity of the obligation to end the anxiety and insecurity in the public mind caused by the widespread violation of various basic human rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of media through the use and misuse of the DSA.
"At the same time, there is a logical expectation that the CSA will not contain the elements for which the DSA is being repealed, and its scope and purpose will be precisely those necessary to ensure the security of cyber infrastructure, the Internet and all related digital platforms, and the free and safe use of the same by creating an adequate legal framework."
In this context, the TIB executive director specifically requested the parliament members to play their respective roles in the necessary amendment and approval process of the draft Cyber Security Bill 2023, taking into consideration the analysis and recommendations presented in the working paper.
The proposed Cyber Security Act provides the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission and concerned authorities unfettered powers to delete data and information. It also contains risky provisions similar to the ones in the Digital Security Act 2018, relying on the law enforcement officers' opinion instead of providing clear and precise definitions of many issues, said Transparency International Bangladesh in a press release.
Noting that most of the Digital Security Act clauses including all the restrictive elements have been reinstated without any change in the proposed Cyber Security Act, the organisation said there is a need to remove harmful content, but it should be within a limited scope and in accordance with the Constitution of Bangladesh, the international human rights laws, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Above all, various clauses of the proposed law allow freedom of expression, dissent, freedom of thought and conscience, and freedom of the media to be criminalised at the will of the authorities, which is worrisome, said the organisation.
It also said the bill empowers the police to investigate crimes and enforce the law without regard to skills and abilities and without judicial oversight. On the other hand, it has not been considered whether there is the capacity of judicial supervision where necessary.
In many cases the provisions for imprisonment were replaced with fines, which in reality is a tactic of criminalising constitutional rights. The bill unreasonably covers many matters that are justiciable under common law, such as defamation due to the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression, said Transparency International Bangladesh.
The organisation has also expressed interest in discussing the analysis and recommendations presented in its working paper with the parliamentary committee and the relevant authorities at a convenient time for both parties.