Controversial ICT Act’s Section 57 morphing into proposed Digital Security Act

The government has cleared the Digital Security Act, which incorporates issues addressed in the controversial Section 57 of the ICT Act in an elaborated way.

Senior Correspondentbdnews24.com
Published : 29 Jan 2018, 04:00 PM
Updated : 29 Jan 2018, 06:10 PM

The new law keeps provisions of up to 14 years in jail and Tk 10 million fine for offences like hacking, espionage in digital or electronic form as well as for ‘propaganda’ against the Liberation War and the Father of the Nation.

In case of ‘hurting religious sensitivities’, offenders will face up to 10 years in jail  and Tk 20 million in fine.

Monday’s weekly cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has given the green light to the draft of the ‘Digital Security Act 2018’, which now awaits Parliament’s nod.

It would render sections 54, 55, 56, 57 and 66 of the ICT Act defunct, Cabinet Secretary Md Shafiul Alam told the media at a briefing at the Secretariat afterwards.

The proposed Act clarifies offences and their respective penalties.

“Cyber crime is on the rise. Several government agencies, including the Bangladesh Bank, has been attacked and we do not have a law to combat it,” Shafiul said explaining the necessity for the law.

The proposed law covers all forms of cyber crime, he said, and it has the provision of a Digital Security Council headed by the prime minister.

The Digital Security Act 2018, which was cleared by the cabinet on Monday, now awaits the Parliament's nod.

Besides the top council, a Digital Security Agency will be formed for field-level activities, the chief of which will be authorised to take ‘preventive measures’.

“The chief will be able to request the BTRC to block or remove contents deemed as a threat to digital security” said the cabinet secretary.

Law-enforcing agencies can make similar requests to the telecom regulators once the new law is passed, he added.

The draft law also has provisions of creating a ‘National Computer Emergency Response Team’ and ‘Digital Forensic Lab’ for the Agency.

‘Detailed Section 57 in new law’

The ICT Act’s Section 57 criminalises ‘publication of fake, obscene or defaming information in electronic form’.

An offence under this provision of the Act is punishable by at least seven years to a maximum 14 years’ imprisonment. Fine can be as high as Tk 10 million.

It has drawn criticism for effectively muzzling the freedom of speech and expression.

Rights activists and journalists have termed it ‘draconian’ saying the law-enforcing agencies can misuse it.

Law Minister Anisul Huq had said the ‘confusion’ around the issue would be cleared once Section 57 is removed from the ICT Act and the Digital Security Act is drafted.

The new law will address the issues ‘in detail’, says Cabinet Secretary Shafiul.

“Section 57 was concise. The new law stipulates penalties for different type of offences. It also details how investigations will be conducted.”

Rights activists and journalists have termed Section 57 ‘draconian’ saying the law-enforcing agencies can misuse it. File photo

The ICT Act was created in 2006 and revised twice in 2009 and 2013. The latest revision increased the maximum jail sentence from 10 years to 14 years and made offences under Section 57 non-bailable.

The proposed Digital Security Act, however, keeps provisions of both bailable and non-bailable offences depending on the gravity of the charges, according to Shafiul.

Asked whether espionage charges can be brought against journalists under the new law, he replied, “Not at all … journalists have not been targeted (in the law).”

Offences and punishments

>> Unauthorised access or hacking into important data infrastructure— up to 7 years in jail or Tk 2.5 million in fine or both;

>> Destroying or manipulating important data infrastructure by hacking — up to 14 years in jail or Tk 10 million in fine or both;

>> Unauthorised access of computers or digital devices — up to 1 year in jail or Tk 300,000 in fine or both;

>> Aiding or abetting to illegally accessing computers or digital devices — up to 3 years in jail or Tk 1 million in fine or both;

>> Illegally obtaining, copying or transferring data from computers or computer system — up to 7 years in jail or Tk 1 million in fine or both;

>> Destroying or changing source code — up to 3 years in jail or Tk 300,000 in fine or both;

>> Propaganda against the 1971 Liberation War and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in digital or electronic form — up to 14 years in jail or Tk 10 million in fine or both;

>> Blocking access or illegally accessing into computer and internet network as well as aiding such efforts in to threaten the state’s sovereignty, security or to create a panic among the public will be counted as cyber terrorism and will cause up to 14 years in jail or Tk 10 million in fine or both.

>> Posting contents on the internet or disseminate in digital form hurting religious sensitivities — up to 10 years in jail or Tk 2 million in fine or both;

>> Libellous offences in line with the penal code through website or in electronic form — up to 3 years in jail or Tk 0.5 million in fine or both;

>> Posting contents on the internet or circulate in digital form creating communal rift and hatred or disrupting communal harmony or fuelling unrest — up to 10 years in jail or Tk 2 million in fine or both;

>> Unauthorised online transactions from bank, insurance or any other financial service providers — up to 5 years in jail or Tk 0.5 million in fine or both;

>> Sending contents mean to attack or threaten through website or in electronic form — up to 3 years in jail or Tk 300,000 in fine or both;

>> Storing and transferring top secret and confidential data from government, semi-govt, autonomous organisations in computers, digital devices, digital network or any other electronic form as well as aiding and abetting such efforts will be counted as espionage and will cause up to 14 years in jail or Tk 2.5 million in fine or both.

The proposed law defines digital content as data, knowledge, incidents, original concept and instructions in text, image video and audio formats, said Cabinet Secretary Shafiul.

Any and everything using binary technology will be considered as ‘digital’, including electrical, digital, magnetic, optical, biometric, electrochemical, electromechanical, wireless and electromagnetic technologies, he added. 

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher