Wire-tap plans violate constitution

Editorial, NewAge, August 28, 2008

The government is planning to monitor and coordinate the tapping of telephone calls through a national monitoring centre under the home ministry, according to report front-paged in New Age on Wednesday. The monitoring centre will reportedly be made up of representatives from the law enforcement and intelligence agencies and a brigadier general of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence will head the centre. However, phone tapping by the state, that too at a time when a writ petition challenging the government’s authority to do phone tapping is pending with the High Court, is not only unacceptable but is a direct affront to the rule of law and the fundamental rights of the citizens of this country.
   

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance government wanted to introduce phone tapping during its tenure, apparently for the sake of national security and to make it easier for the law enforcement agencies to identify and apprehend criminals. In order to allow the government to do this, parliament passed the Telecommunications (Amendment) Act 2006 in February 2006. In May of that same year, a write petition was filed challenging the law and on May 18, 2006, a High Court bench issued a rule on the government to explain why the amended Telecommunications Act should not be declared illegal. No further progress was made before the BNP-led alliance government left office at the end of its tenure. When emergency was declared in January, 2007, it automatically took away the court’s right to give judgement on a case brought against a political government. Hence, the case has been shelved since.
   

Now, the military-controlled interim government is trying to pick up where the BNP-led government left off, attempting once again to introduce phone tapping in the name of maintaining public safety and national security. However, we have witnessed time and time again the tendency of governments – particularly unelected, undemocratic governments – to confuse the safety and security of the people with the security of the government itself. As a result, governments introduce repressive measures, such as phone tapping, which directly infringe upon the rights of the citizens instead of making them any safer. Phone tapping by the state is a direct contravention of Article 43 (b) of our constitution that guarantees a person’s right to the privacy of his correspondence and other means of communications. It infringes also the constitutionally granted freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech. It is it intrusive, intimidating and unconstitutional; and is yet another significant step towards our nation becoming a police state.
   

Hence, we believe that it is our responsibility to continue to oppose any plans or efforts by this government, or any government for that matter, to engage in phone tapping. Constitutionality aside, we do not believe that public safety can be enhanced by taking hostage the civil liberties of the citizens. The potential for abuse of such measures far outweighs, in our view, any real benefit to society. Hence, we urge the military-controlled regime to abandon such plans and to return to the people their fundamental rights. Side by side, we feel that the High Court has a responsibility to step in now, on its own, to block the government’s infringement of the people’s fundamental rights, in the least, while the matter is still pending with the courts.

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