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Digital privacy in Bangladesh

Published : Wednesday, 22 June, 2022 at 12:00 AM  Count : 1258

Digital privacy in Bangladesh

Digital privacy in Bangladesh

"Do not enter any houses except your own homes unless you are sure of their occupants' consent."     (Surah An-Nur, 24:27)
"He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy conceals a matter."
    (Proverbs, 11:13)

Data published by Meta (which is the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) indicates that, Facebook had 44.70 million users in Bangladesh in early 2022. The number of social media users in Bangladesh at the start of 2022 was around 29.7 percent of the total population. Data analysis reveals that social media users in Bangladesh increased by 4.6 million (+10.1 percent) between 2021 and 2022 and this trend will continue in the coming future as more and more people of Bangladesh are getting access to the internet and smartphone. This is clearly a good sign in terms of establishing "Digital Bangladesh".

However, in Bangladesh, the majority of individuals are unaware of or indifferent about who has access to their personal information. People are unknowingly allowing the big tech conglomerates into their private conversations.Should we consider this to be ethical?

Unfortunately, there is currently no regulation or legislation in Bangladesh that simply recognizes digital personal privacy. As a result, the entire computer industry is not held accountable, even on paper. Bangladesh relies largely on the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for business transactions, despite the fact that several laws address network security and computer fraud, but none of them hold personal privacy infractions accountable.

Given that every major country in the world is addressing the issue of privacy and fair use of material, it's only natural to examine the present policy governing personal data privacy and raise questions from the standpoint of a Bangladeshi citizen.

But like everything else in the world, this issue is also can be considered as "Grey" rather than "Black or White". As the security regarding terrorism is hanging over our head, it is also needed to acknowledge that in this day and age, certain institutions and agencies should have the authority to ethically intervene to find out if someone is keeping a weapon hidden behind closed doors that could jeopardize the public's interest. The average smartphone sold in Bangladesh now has even 8 or 16 GB of RAM. To put this into perspective, the Apollo 11 Moon Landing was accomplished by a computer with 4 kilobytes (KB) of RAM.

So, we can evidently say that the average processing capability that individuals have in their pockets outweighs that of the computer that landed humanity on the moon.

Anyone can access any phone with that much computer power thanks to the capability of clever Artificial Intelligence (AI) and enough permissions, therefore, there needs to be a discussion about the morality of exploiting personal data.According to the website of ICT division, there are currently eighteen ICT policies and legislation in effect in our country, but none of them address the privacy of regular citizens. It has been challenging for Bangladesh to ensure that citizens are aware of these threats and that they manage their online behaviors accordingly, especially since many urban households are turning to e-commerce websites for groceries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They are disclosing sensitive information such as credit card numbers and location to a slew of new e-commerce sites that appear every day. In a world where the line between reality and virtual reality is becoming increasingly blurred, the issue of citizen privacy has not gotten the attention it deserves. After the horrific attack on the World Trade Centrein September 11th, 2001, "Weapons of mass destruction" was considered to be the biggest threat to US soil.In response to this, the then Vice President of USA,Richard Bruce Cheney, formally known as Dick Cheney, asked the intelligence community about what could be done to prevent this kind of incidents in the future.

Digital privacy in Bangladesh

Digital privacy in Bangladesh

The intelligence community responded by creating a programme called "Heartbeat". Through it, Private companies had obligations to share personal data of its users to the government with little to no oversight.

In terms of policy, Bangladesh has little to no oversight over the use of personal data. Because our information relates to our personal concerns and identities, there must be certainty about who can access it.

But forthe lack of understanding in terms of digital security, the people of Bangladesh, in most cases, will not be concerned about their identity being stolen, as previously said.

Nonetheless, with bKash and a hundred other companies attempting to cash in on the "opportunity" of a pandemic, they are going to be anxious about who is looking after their wallets. The vast range of e-commerce sites from Chaldal to Pathao, all use some form of digital payment. As they appear on the smartphone notification bars every morning, these companies should be put to the test in terms of their true caring for their customers and who do they share our information with.

To provide its citizen with better security, the government passed the "Digital Security Act" on 2018. But the act is more about preventing and penalizing defamation on digital media or to curb the spread of false information rather than an individual's privacy. So to make it more people friendly, government should review the Digital Security Act again to make it a proper legislation where none can harass another person through this act as well as protecting them from the misuse of their personal information.

In other words, regulations regarding the usage of personal information to the third party is needed from both the ethical and governmental point of view in order to make the dream of "Digital Bangladesh" effective, fruitful and accepted by the people of Bangladesh.
Shafin Haque Omlan,
Research Associate, Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM)

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