Digital Security Act

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Hastily in December 2018, less than a month for the upcoming 11th parliamentary elections the draconian cyber security law was hastily passed without much opposition. The DSA was first drafted in 2016. The controversial section 57 of the ICT act has now been replaced in a new label of digital security act, 2018. Earlier, the draconian information and communication technology act (ICT) was and still an issue since it was adopted in 2006. This is the law which has been in discussions and debated. Especially the controversial section 57 of this act is interpreted as a hanging noose around the neck to free speech on digital platforms. Namely the online web portals, news portals, blogs, and of course, social media platforms. It was exercised to suppress freedom of speech of the citizens and that also for the simplest (and allegedly in many cases, unreasonable) reasons.

The DSA passed on 8 October 2018, is even more repressive than the ICT act that is replaced. The new act is deeply problematic for three major reasons: ambiguous formulation of multiple sections that are vague that they may lead to criminalising of legitimate expression of opinions or thoughts; broad powers granted to authorities which are not clearly defined; and provisions which allow for removal or blocking of content and the seizure/ search of devices without sufficient safeguards.For an example is section21 of the act, which criminalises “propaganda or campaign” against “the spirit of liberation war”, and “the father of the nation, national anthem and national flag”; terms which are so vague that they may be used to restrict free speech.

Section 25 (1) of the act, “if any person using a website or any digital device – (a) deliberately or knowingly distributes any information or data that is attacking or intimidating in nature; or if a person publishes or distributes any information despite knowing that it is false to irritate, humiliate, defame or embarrass or to discredit a person; (b) damages the image and reputation of the state or spreads confusion or with the same purpose publishes or distributes fully or partially distorted information or data despite knowing that it is false, and if anyone assists in such actions then all such actions of the individual will be considered a crime.”

Section 31 says, “if a person deliberately publishes or broadcasts via a website or any digital platform anything that creates enmity, hatred or acrimony among different classes or communities, or upsets communal harmony, or creates unrest or chaos, or causes or begins to cause deterioration in law and order, then that activity of the said person will be considered a crime.” The mid-level police officer has been given broad powers to investigate alleged offenses, but also seize digital devices and data and arrest people without a warrant. Finally, a conviction under DSA could face five years to life imprisonment, plus the cash penalty.“During this period, the government has issued the rules 5 of this law with the aim of enforcing the digital security act 2018 more strictly. Law enforcement officials and ruling party members have filed lawsuits, and the courts refused to grant bail to those arrested under the digital security act.” According to Odhikar, 142 persons were arrested under controversial DSA during 2020. Nearly 200 persons were arrested since 2018. The highest number arrests were made during 2020.

The Ain-O-Shalish Kendra in “Bangladesh human rights situation 2020: observation by ask” states that during the period of 2020, at least 130 cases were filed under notorious DSA and 271 persons were indicted.the DSA which was passed amidst huge protests in 2018 has technically replaced the previous draconian law namely information and communication technology (ICT) act 2006 but has incorporated the dangerous section 57 into the new bottle.



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