On proposed ICT Act-2013
WORLDWIDE, framing of cyber laws for a virtual world with a view to curbing cyber crimes is being treated as a very sensitive issue as it involves multidimensional complexities. In contrast, framing of real world laws is comparatively easy as various laws (e.g. civil laws, criminal laws) to govern societies had been introduced even before the Christian era. In fact, such laws are being evolved and improved over time in all countries. But the emergence of a virtual world is a new phenomenon, which started at the fag end of the last century with the expansion of the internet in the 1990s.
The complexities in cyber laws lie in the inherent characteristics of cyberspace, or 'virtual world' in other words. First of all, unlike laws in the physical world, cyber laws have no precedents, and we need to formulate them from scratch. Secondly, we need to assess the complexities of computer and communication technologies which are rapidly evolving and changing. Thirdly, cyberspace is global by nature and, realising this, the International Telecommunication Unit (ITU) has taken an initiative to formulate universal cyber laws.
In the above context, enacting of an ICT Act is a very sensitive issue and we should pay special attention to it. Recently, the government of Bangladesh approved the proposed ICT Act-2013, which is expected to be passed in the ongoing session of the Parliament. Unfortunately, some of the features of the proposed Act may be considered as a barrier to the freedom of expression. For instance, according to Article 57 of the draft, "any willful release on websites or any other electronic platform of any material which is false, vulgar, defamatory, liable to cause deterioration of law and order, or tarnishes the image of the state or individual, or hurts religious sentiments is treated as a cyber crime."
Now I focus on some loopholes in the stated article. For instance, a person uploads his /her opinion in Facebook, providing some information on some political issue. However, the information the person has provided may be wrong as he/she has gathered wrong information from another source (e.g. newspaper). In this scenario, he/she may become a victim since the government will be able to file a case against him/her. Again, in the Article the word 'vulgar' is an ambiguous one. How to define the term 'vulgar'? So, it can be argued that this article is also a threat to freedom of expression.
In the network environment, creation of fake ID (for instance email address, Facebook ID) in any other person's name is quite easy in the cyberspace. So, by uploading offensive materials using some other person's name, a criminal may intentionally victimise that person. In the proposed cyber law there is no indication of how to resolve this sort of problem.
The dangerous feature of this article is that the law enforcing agencies can arrest any person suspected of committing cyber crime without issuing any warrant, which violates the provision of basic citizens' rights provided in our constitution. Moreover, the proposed Act considers cyber crime as a non-bailable one. So, there is no guarantee that this Act will not be used as a political weapon just to harass political opponents.
Extension of punishment period has also been included in the proposed Act. For committing cyber crimes, the proposed Act increases the term of maximum punishment from 10 years to 14 years (in the 2006 Act, the maximum punishment term was 10 years).
As I mentioned earlier, cyber crime may be global in nature. However, the proposed Act has not addressed this.
Another crucial point is that when enacting any law which involves high-tech and complexities, the capability of our law enforcing agencies must also be considered. For this, a special capability building programme must be initiated for the relevant wing of the law enforcing agency so that they become technologically knowledgeable enough for dealing with this sort of crime.
In the above circumstances, before passing of the ICT Act-2013, further evaluation of the proposed Act and reformulation are essential, especially to avoid the possible victimisation of innocent people. Assessment of public opinion and the advice of experts are also needed.
The writer is a university academic in Computer Science, and a columnist.