Draft regulation for digital, social media, OTTs a risk to freedom of speech: Consultants

The government’s draft regulation for digital, social media and OTT platforms will be a threat to freedom of speech and curb people’s basic rights, experts said today.

Addressing a webinar organized by Moulik Odhikar Surokkha Committee, they said the draft regulation contradicts the country’s constitution and government’s vision of Digital Bangladesh, stressing for redrafting it.

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The event was held to share the committee’s “primary observation” on the draft “Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) Regulation for Digital, Social Media and OTT Platforms-2021”.

The government published the first draft of the regulation in February for comments on it from different stakeholders.

In his remarks, eminent jurist Shahdeen Malik said concern remains that the new regulation will be a tool to curb people’s rights at a time when the government has its denial over occurrence of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings in the country.

There is an attempt to create fear among people in everything regarding hurting religious sentiment, he said, adding there is room to be worried whether the new regulation will be applied for this.

“Nowadays, laws are being formulated and applied more to do harm instead of ensuring people’s wellbeing,” the jurist added.

He said different provisions of the Digital Security Act that curb freedom of speech or create fear have been used to file hundreds of cases while the proposed anti-discrimination law turns out to be a “hollow”.

Although the government says laws are formulated with the best intention but the more days are passing, without few exceptions, laws are not facilitating the flourish of democracy but preventing it, he added.

Quazi Mahfujul Hoque Supan, a teacher of law department at Dhaka University, said the second and third chapters of the draft BTRC regulation are “whim” and have been drafted to “control freedom of speech”.

Under Chapter two, the intermediaries providing OTT (over-the-top) services will be made to remove data encryption which is applied to protect user’s privacy, he said.

It will be done so that the state can easily know “who is telling what”. This will be a violation of globally recognized internet policy, he added.

Chapter three of the draft regulation comprises summaries of various “authoritarian” laws already in place like the DSA, he further said.

Supreme Court lawyer Barrister Sara Hossain said if implemented, both the BTRC regulation and the draft OTT content-based service providing and operation policy prepared by the ICT division will widen the scope for curbing people’s rights.

She said the draft policy and regulation were placed for public consultation for a little over a month which is a short time, adding that most people are not aware of those.

She suggested submitting a proposal to the authority concerned to make public stakeholders’ opinions and recommendations on the proposed draft policy and regulation and ask them whether the two legal instruments will be redrafted.

Nuran Choudhury, a teacher of law department at Independent University, Bangladesh, and Zakir Hossain, chief executive of Nagorik Uddyog, also spoke at the event.

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