Data privacy: Bangladesh moves to bar leaking of audio and video calls

The government has revised a law in wanting to prevent the leaking of personal audio and video calls and protect private information.

Senior CorrespondentShamim Ahamed, bdnews24.com
Published : 5 Oct 2020, 05:31 PM
Updated : 5 Oct 2020, 05:31 PM

The decision was made to strengthen the legal case against the leaking of personal calls without the consent of the user or official necessity, said Post and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar.

Keeping personal information private has become a major challenge in the modern world, he said.

Asked what initiatives the government was taking on the matter, he added: “A section of the current law is being revised in order to assert more control over the leaking of mobile phone audio and video records.”

“An initiative has been taken to add a section to the revised Digital Security Act that will safeguard data privacy.

In a ruling that barred the use of a suspect’s mobile phone call list as evidence against him, the High Court said that the private communications of some citizens had recently been spread on social media.

The court added that section 44 of the Constitution safeguards the privacy of a citizen’s mail and other personal communication and that this law could not be breached.

Mobile operators say that they keep call records for their users, but do not record audio conversations.

But it is still possible to use certain apps to record conversations. Anyone can record a call through those means and then spread it on social media.

“The personal information of some citizens is being spread on social media," Jabbar said. "The Bangladesh Telecommunication Act-2010 will be revised to address the legal aspect of this issue.”

“If social media is to operate, it has to do so within the bounds of Bangladesh’s laws. These include laws related to financial transactions, security and data protection. We can proceed with this matter in a legal sense.”

OPERATORS SAY THEY DO NOT RECORD CALLS

Mobile operators say they are barred from recording voice calls under the law and can only keep a call detail record, or CDR.

Top officials from several mobile phone operators told bdnews24.com they only provide that information to specific individuals in the government ‘in the interests of national security’.

The CDR is a record of the outgoing and incoming calls made by and to users. According to the 4G policy, operators store these records for two years.

An official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the CDR is not available to anyone who wishes to check it.

“According to the law, specific law-enforcing officials assigned by the home ministry can obtain the CDR in the interests of national security. No one aside from the officials on the list can see it.”

Though mobile operators do not record calls, some government agencies have the power to do so ‘in the interest of national security’. These agencies can also identify the location from where the call was made and received and the movement of the users on the call, the official said.

“There is no legal hurdle preventing law enforcement from obtaining information for the needs of the state,” CID Cyber Crime Unit Special Superintendent of Police Ashraful Haque told bdnews24.com.

“No one else has the power to publish or distribute that information. But if someone wants to expose threats to the nation as a way to aid law enforcement, they may do so.”

LOOPHOLES IN THE LAW

In the interest of national security and public order, a special provision under the Telecommunication Act allows the government to authorise intelligence and law-enforcing agencies to prevent, record or collect information on the messages and conversations of users of any telecommunication service. It may also direct a telecom service provider to assist in such work and the operator will be bound to comply.

Many believe this provision undermines the protection of an individual's personal information.

Sumon Ahmed Sabir, an IT expert, told bdnews24.com: "The provision for recording calls infringes on the protection of personal information under the law.

"A lot can be done in the national interest, but it is important to have checks and balances there."

Citing the example of Japan and New Zealand, he added, "If you want to obtain a person's call record or internet browsing data, you have to have a warrant issued first."

While many countries around the world have data protection laws, Bangladesh is yet to put one in place, Supreme Court lawyer Tanzim Al Islam told bdnews24.com.

“There is no law to even protect personal information. The government should enact a data protection law.”

Although there is a provision for punishment for listening in on phone calls, that too is not fully fleshed out.

“According to the law of Bangladesh, eavesdropping is a crime. Section 71 of the Telecommunication Act also prescribes a penalty for eavesdropping. But that only applies to the individual. If an individual intercepts another person's phonecall, he will be penalised," said Tanzim.

"Intelligence or law-enforcing agencies on the other hand are exempt. Now, it is not mentioned what will happen if any of them misuses it or if it is misused for any reason. I think there is a weakness in the law in this area. And this section of the law has offered a big protection to them,” he said.

Highlighting the constitutional rights of citizens, the High Court observed that Article 44 of the Constitution guarantees a citizen's right to keep communications, including letters, private. This protection cannot easily be violated by anyone.

"Our constitution clearly states that the privacy of personal communications is a fundamental right," Tanzim said.

"If the privacy of one's personal communications is violated, they may seek recourse from the High Court on the issue of fundamental rights if they have proof of it.”

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher