(First published in the Global Voices Online)
It all started when an exclusive report from E-Bangladesh exposed a memo of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) which instructed 72 Internet Service Providers (ISP) of Bangladesh to submit their individual client details and their usage details. E-Bangladesh also revealed that raids have been carried out in innocent individual users' houses, as a part of the ongoing illegal VOIP operators busting assignment.
Check the Global Voices Advocacy report for details.
VOIP(Voice over Internet Protocol) is a low cost technology based on internet which makes cheap calls via methods like calling cards possible. There are a growing number of Bangladeshi Diaspora in the world who have created a huge demand of international telecommunication. In absence of proper Government control and awareness thousands of small scale VOIP operators have sprung up in Bangladesh in the last 3 to 4 years to cater as the backbones of the International calling card markets. These entrepreneurs are especially young techies who found a small scale investor to set up a profitable business for them basically using a fast internet connection, some mobile phone connections for call termination and some switches.
This has hurt the state run Telecommunication organization BTTB much. Its revenue came down to alarming level and it had to cut down prices of international calls. However without embracing for this new technology themselves they are trying to stop usage of this technology banning it. Since January this year the BTRC has started to bust the existing VOIP operators declaring them illegal and without considering rehabilitation of the existing operators. The government has recently declared that they will provide license to four operators of VOIP. So many opine that the said memo is a measure to protect these upcoming four operators' business.
However BBC reports confirmed quoting the General Secretary of Bangladesh ISP that the whole point of the memo is to establish a control mechanism in Internet Service provided to individuals. The Government will also prepare a database of the internet users with that information.
Bloggers have become outraged by this. Rajkoomaree writes in Unheard Voices: Drishtipat Blog:
Now BTRC orders ISPs to reveal admin password, user data , usage pattern, IP address and so many other things (i even don’t know we need so many things to use the net) of each and every individual to track, monitor and record their activities…..
But can they do it? No. as far as you can remember, the constitution is not yet suspended or scrapped in Bangladesh. And that is supposed to be the supreme law of the country. According to Article 43 every citizen shall have the right to be secured in his home against entry, search and seizure, and to the privacy of his correspondence and other means of communication.
Blogger Arup created a banner (displayed above) to protest Internet monitoring and requested all users [bn] of the Bangla blogging platform Sachalayaton to use it as their profile picture.
However another blog Shada Kalo differs on this:
Internet monitoring and control may be very real in Bangladesh. After all, there is a brand-new, 175 person agency being set up to monitor phone conversations.
But this letter, and the current BTRC search and seizures have nothing to do with curtailing free speech (but VOIP).
This blogger says [bn]:
In todays era of Globalization people will choose the technology which is cheap and easy to use. Nobody can stop the technology.
When Fax technology was introduced in Bangladesh BTTB did not legalize it for two years stating that it will hamper its Telegraph and Telex business.
Mash at Or How I learned to Stop Worrying discusses about the recent crisis of Bangladesh media which is muzzled through threats, intimidation, and censorship. He discusses some background:
With the Bangladesh media silenced, Bangladeshi bloggers, both inside and outside the country, have filled the void. Via SMS and the Internet Bangladeshi bloggers have been both reporting on events within the country and protesting the military government’s suppression of human rights.
After mass protests broke out last August, the Bangladesh military government shut down cell phone networks and the Internet as it began its crackdown. It then embarked on a campaign of intimidation against bloggers and protesters outside the country. Now the military government has taken its battle against the Internet one step further.
The irony in this report is that none of the newspapers in Bangladesh have reported on this action against Internet use. The only reports have come from Bangladeshi blogs, which obtained a leaked copy of the government order, and the BBC.
You can join the Facebook Group “FREEDOM OF INTERNET USERS IN BANGLADESH” to get updates.