The Daily Star [Dhaka, Bangladesh] September 04, 2003 Move on to tap phone calls, bust e-mails Mustak Hossain A move is underway to amend the Bangladesh Telecommunication Act 2001, allowing intelligence agencies to breach privacy of individuals by tapping telephone calls and busting e-mails, sources said. A leading intelligence agency backed by others has initiated the move and convinced the relevant ministries to amend the act, paving the way for gross breach of privacy, sources said. The agencies also want access to the subscribers' database of all fixed phone and cellular phone service providers and the Internet service providers (ISPs). The telecoms act stipulates that breaching individual privacy by eavesdropping on telephone conversations between two persons is a punishable offence as it infringes on civil rights. Although security agencies cannot legally eavesdrop on telephone conversations, allegations have long been there that they monitor and tap telephone calls illegally. But at present, they cannot use the information derived by such means as evidence in a court of law. However, after its amendment, the intelligence agencies will be able to manoeuvre freely to listen to individual telephone calls, read e-mails and produce tapped and e-mailed messages before the court as evidence. Section 71 of the telecoms act describes penalty for eavesdropping on telephone conversations: "A person commits an offence, if he intentionally listens to a telephone conversation between two other persons, and for such offence, he shall be liable to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding 50 thousand taka or both." Sources said security agencies have been able to persuade the Prime Minister's Office to bring changes to the telecoms act, citing the rise of terrorist activities in Bangladesh and September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, US. The agencies also convinced the Ministry of Post and Telecommu-nications (MoPT) to bring some changes to the telecoms law. The ministry recently held a series of meetings with the Ministry of Law and Bangladesh Telecommuni-cations Regulatory Commission (BTRC). The BTRC has already prepared a draft outlining changes asked for by the security agencies on instruction of the law ministry. The agencies want a change in the subsection of Section 30 of the telecoms act, which deals with protection of privacy of telecommunications, by incorporating the words, put here in italics: "to ensure protection of the privacy of telecommunications; subject to the national security laws". "In fact, the telecoms ministry and telecoms watchdog are under pressure from the security agencies, which are pressing for the changes in the name of state security," a senior government official said on condition of anonymity. The security agencies have also asked for an amendment to Section 5. According to them, it should read, "Notwithstanding any contrary provisions of any other law, subject to the provisions of national security law, the provisions of this Act shall have effect", instead of "Notwithstanding any contrary provisions of any other law, the provisions of this act shall have effect." "Providing such opportunity to intelligence agencies means putting them above law," said Barrister Tanjibul Alam of Dr Kamal Hossain & Associates, a law firm. Tanjibul is one of the solicitors to have prepared the original act as consultant. "There will be no privacy of individuals if the law is amended according to the desire of the security agencies," a civil society activist said. A civil rights activist said if the secret agencies have the amendments they want in place "this will make the country a police state". The proposed amendments are in violation of the independence of the BTRC, Tanjibul observed. Most of the protection of privacy under Section 30 of the telecommunications act will be curtailed in the name of national security, which is a vague term, said Tanjibul. It will also undermine the purpose of the telecoms act, which was envisaged establishing an independent commission for development and efficient regulation of telecoms system and telecoms services in Bangladesh and for the transfer of the powers and functions of the post and telecommunications ministry to the BTRC. The telecoms policy was enacted in parliament in 1998 and the telecoms act was passed in 2001. ========== HURIDOCS-Tech listserv ========== Send mail intended for the list to <email@example.com>. Archives of the list can be found at: http://www.hrea.org/lists/huridocs-tech/markup/maillist.php To subscribe to the list, send a message to <firstname.lastname@example.org>, with the following text in the message: subscribe huridocs-tech To unsubscribe from the list, send a message to <email@example.com>, with the following text in the message: unsubscribe huridocs-tech If you have problems (un)subscribing, contact <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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