ICT Act 2006: Absolute power controls absolutely

Since the act of ban has been withdrawn, this piece talks about the legal ‘Act’ that empowered that act of ban. This piece is on the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, 2006 that offers absolute power to the ‘authority’ on very ambiguous grounds.

Apparently ICT Act 2006 is being followed now. There are however reports that the government has already formulated the ICT Act 2009. According to Ministry of Science and ICT, there is an ICT Act 2009. But they only provide link to Bangladesh Computer Council which actually has the gazette of ICT Act 2006, not 2009.  Ministry of Law also has the 2006 version of the Act on its website. The recent (Facebook) ban has also been linked with the 2006 Act. Hence, this piece will explores the ICT Act 2006 and discuss the absolute power it proves to the authority.

Dishonesty: Whose fault?

Section 57(1) of the act outlines the scope of cyber crime and appears most confusing. From the text of the Act it appears that even any innocent online posting can become a cyber crime, if the authority believes that it has provoked a third person to become derailed or dishonest. In other words, the crime doesn’t depend on the offensive or illicit nature of the posted material. It depends on the readers’ or viewers’ personality.

Section 57(1) of the Act says-

If any person, willingly publishes or broadcasts any material on website or any other electronic form that is false and vulgar, or given the situation upon reading, writing or listening to that material, any person can become derailed or dishonest, or which causes defamation, worsen or create the possibility to worsen the law and order situation, damage a person’s or state’s image, or harm or may harm religious feelings, or provocation is instigated upon any person or organization through these materials, then his/her such act will be a crime”

[emphasis added. unofficial translation of: ৫৭৷ (১) কোন ব্যক্তি যদি ইচ্ছাকৃতভাবে ওয়েব সাইটে বা অন্য কোন ইলেক্ট্রনিক বিন্যাসে এমন কিছু প্রকাশ বা সম্প্রচার করেন, যাহা মিথ্যা ও অশ্লীল বা সংশ্লিষ্ট অবস্থা বিবেচনায় কেহ পড়িলে, দেখিলে বা শুনিলে নীতিভ্রষ্ট বা অসৎ হইতে উদ্বুদ্ধ হইতে পারেন অথবা যাহার দ্বারা মানহানি ঘটে, আইন শৃঙ্খলার অবনতি ঘটে বা ঘটার সম্ভাবনা সৃষ্টি হয়, রাষ্ট্র ও ব্যক্তির ভাবমূর্তি ক্ষুণ্ন হয় বা ধর্মীয় অনুভূতিতে আঘাত করে বা করিতে পারে বা এ ধরনের তথ্যাদির মাধ্যমে কোন ব্যক্তি বা সংগঠনের বিরুদ্ধে উস্কানী প্রদান করা হয়, তাহা ইহলে তাহার এই কার্য হইবে একটি অপরাধ৷]

Most other parts of the text are understood. But the question is, if a crime-prone person becomes derailed or dishonest by watching or reading a seemingly honest content, then why an innocent content provider will be responsible for that crime-prone person’s act? Need an expert opinion from any lawyer to make sure that we aren’t missing something here.

According to article 4(1) of this Act, if any person commits any crime that would have been punishable under this law if committed in Bangladesh, this act should be applied as if that crime has been committed in Bangladesh [i.e. ৪৷ (১) যদি কোন ব্যক্তি বাংলাদেশের বাহিরে এই আইনের অধীন কোন অপরাধ করেন যাহা বাংলাদেশে করিলে এই আইনের অধীন দণ্ডযোগ্য হইত, তাহা হইলে এই আইন এইরূপে প্রযোজ্য হইবে যেন অপরাধটি তিনি বাংলাদেশেই করিয়াছেন৷].

Article 4(1), when juxtaposed with article 57(1), also creates confusion. A Bangladeshi person living in USA can write a blog post that is perfectly acceptable by US laws. But if another person, living in Bangladesh, pretends that s/he has been provoked to be dishonest by that blog post, then can that US blogger be prosecuted under this law?

In most countries, such crimes are clearly defined. For instance, USA’s `Communications Decency Act of 1996‘ prohibits sending any request, image, or communication that is offensive ‘as measured by contemporary community standards’ sexual or excretory activities or organs to persons less than 18 years of age. And yet, terms such as “patently offensive display” in that Act came under fire from civil liberty groups and faced lawsuits.

Bangladesh’s ICT Act on the other hand is far more ambiguous that leaves unprecedented and unchecked power at the hands of the ‘authority’. According to article 57(2), such offender can be punished with a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine up to Taka 1 crore. Since cyber crime is being treated as a serious offence, the nature and definition of the crime needs to be unambiguous.

Is pseudonym illegal?

In (g)olden times, our littérateurs used to write under pseudonym. Now many bloggers follow the same tradition. But recently in an article, one Lawyer cautioned that “creation of fake account may also be punishable under the Penal Code for cheating by personating, defamation and/or forgery”. The question is, does blogging under pseudonym account falls under that category?

What’s next?

1. On 3 June 2010 a a notice demanding justice was issued to the Government stating that “sections 46, 56, and 57 of the Information and Communications Technology Act, 2006 (Act 39 of 2006) is illegal, arbitrary, and violative of Articles 38, 39, and 43 of the Constitution“.

We are looking forward to this legal campaign.

2. Our political leaders frequently criticize Acts enacted by other political parties, but they enjoy them during their own incumbency. The Special Power Act is one such ironic case. Political and non-political governments, that have criticized it more, are the ones that have used it most hideously during the past decades. We don’t want the ICT Act to follow that trend.

When that Act was tabled in 2006, there were criticisms on its potential loopholes. But from a political government that denied Bangladesh of a free submarine fibre-optical cable connection during its previous regime, the expectation was not high. One can go one criticizing BNP for keeping such provisions in the ICT Act, but the fact is- BNP is not in power now. If we need a change, our campaign should be directed at the incumbent, not the opposition.

Awami League has come to power with a promise of ‘change’. Can’t we expect that ‘change’ be reflected in the ICT Act too?


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