Unauthorised data processing and our privacy
Processing personal data without any consent of the data subjects, with no express and lawful purposes, is a gross violation of privacy and cause grave concerns to the mass population. Recently, the BTRC has compiled sensitive personal data of 7crore people from mobile companies. When asked about, both the data processors and collectors denied initially, and gave the paradoxical statements later, making the whole issue sceptical.
The question is whether BTRC can share the personal data with any government agency or not. Principally the answer is negative as it is the primary duty of BTRC to ensure the protection of privacy in the telecommunication sector (section 30 (1) (f), the Bangladesh Telecommunication Act, 20010. In addition to this, neither the Citizen's Charter nor the visions and missions authorise BTRC of processing personal data.
However, a cursory look on the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Act 2001 reveals that BTRC is allowed of collecting information from within and outside Bangladesh; to analyse their impacts on Bangladesh, and to make necessary recommendations to the Government [section 30 (1) (g)]. Again, section 34 (b) affirms that the Government may, at times, refer to the Commission any matter relating to telecommunication for its consideration and recommendations thereon.
While processing the personal data of the individuals two conditions are to be fulfilled by both BTRC and the government. BTRC will perform all functions of the government, provided, that must be consistent with the functions and duties of the Commission as laid down in the Act. Whereas section 97 states, the government can take the control over the telecommunication system during the emergency period, such as- (1) during the war with a foreign power, (2) to suppress the internal rebellion or disorder, and (3) to secure the defence and national security of Bangladesh. Thus, according to the said Act, neither BTRC can attempt to process the personal data ignoring the blocking conditions nor the government and its authority can instruct to do so except an emergency.
Of course, the government can, in pursuance of its executive power, collect the personal data of the citizens too, if there remain the compelling state interests like war, emergency, national security etc. Moreover, in all cases of processing personal data, the government and all concerned must comply with some regulatory frameworks: firstly, to take the express consents of the data subjects; secondly, using data in some specific purposes only; thirdly, to provide reasonable safeguards while dealing with data; fourthly, to wipe out or delete the collected data after such use; and finally, to have specific remedies against any data breach incident.
Privacy is 'such a value that underpins human dignity and other key values, such as, the freedom of association and freedom of speech' (Australian Privacy Charter, 1994). In Justice K. S. Puttaswamy case (Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012), the Supreme Court of India remarked, privacy is one of the fundamental rights, an inherent component of the right to life, individual freedom, and liberties guaranteed in part III of the Constitution. While, the personal data, has become the only fuel in the contemporary era of information; accordingly, much attention has been given therein across the world.
Unfortunately, both the privacy and personal data are poorly treated in Bangladesh; for example, in Tarique Rahman vs. Director General, Bureau of Anti-Corruption (1999), the High Court division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh observed- citizens do not have any fundamental right to privacy or secrecy in respect of property and resource. This is all about a backdated attitude by a nation venturing to establish Digital Bangladesh. Thus, we will urge to all concerned to explain the rationale behind every personal data collection, to honour the right to life and personal liberty, and privacy enumerated in article 32 and 43 of the Constitution of Bangladesh and the major data protection regulations of the world.
Md. Toriqul Islam is a PhD Candidate, University of Malaya, Malaysia