Archive for the ‘Wire-tapping’ Category

Wire-tap plans violate constitution

August 29, 2008

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.


Govt set to monitor phone calls despite writ pending with High Court

August 29, 2008

Taib Ahmed, NewAge, August 27, 2008. 

The government is going to monitor and coordinate tapping of telephone calls through a national monitoring centre, comprising officials of intelligence agencies, under the home ministry while a writ petition challenging telephone tapping has been pending with the High Court for 27 months.

According to sources in the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, a national monitoring centre will be set up under the home ministry to coordinate the tapping of phone calls and monitor call activities.

The centre will be run by a committee with representatives of the commission, Rapid Action Battalion, the police and two intelligence agencies.

The commission chairman, Manzurul Alam, however, told New Age on Monday the committee would have no representation of the commission.

Asked about telephone tapping, Manzurul said, ‘The national monitoring centre, which will work under the home ministry, will monitor call activities, if felt required.

He also said a brigadier general of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence will head the centre.

The national monitoring centre will record calls with the set-up provided by telephony companies, and interconnection exchange and international gateway operators, said sources in the commission and the operators.

Three private international gateways, six interconnection exchanges and one international internet gateway recently started operation under the commission’s international long distance telecommunications system policy.

According to the policy, interconnection exchanges and international gateways, access network service providers (mobile operators), and internet telephony and VSAT hub operators will provide the commission with necessary connections, equipment, instruments and software for online and off-line monitoring.

‘The operators will provide access for the law enforcement agency for “lawful interception” as per the Bangladesh Telecommunications Act 2001 including necessary equipment and software,’ the policy said.

Telephony operators will also provide call details record or any other monitoring facilities of voice and data calls, or both, for online and off-line monitoring by the commission, the policy said, adding the commission would set up a monitoring centre at the submarine cable landing stations, if required.

‘Monitoring facilities will be established by respective operators for voice and data communications using international private leased circuit. IPLC monitoring facilities should also be extended to the commission and the law enforcement agency for online and off-line monitoring including necessary equipment and software by respective operators,’ said the policy.

Sources in the commission and the international gateway and interconnection exchange operators said the process was on to set up teletapping equipment which might go into operation by December.

‘We have held a series of meetings with an intelligence agency, with representation in the national monitoring centre, at its headquarters regarding teletapping,’ a senior technology officer of interconnection exchange operator M&H Telecom, which recently started operation, told New Age.

He, however, said the national monitoring centre was yet to get into its full shape.

Asked exactly how and to what extent call activities would be recorded by the national monitoring centre, he said, ‘The equipment of the national monitoring centre, to be set up at the headquarters of an intelligence agency, will have connectivity with each of the telecom, mobile, interconnection exchange and international gateway operators.’

A senior technology officer of an international gateway operator said, ‘The process of procuring the tapping equipment is now in the final stages and they will be set up at the headquarters of an intelligence agency.’

It has now been easier to record voice calls with the commissioning of six private telephony operators which will handle especially overseas calls as the country did not have such technology earlier, he said.

‘Law enforcement agencies will tap voice calls only when the authorities concerned will allow them to,’ he said.

Although the government has finalised the teletapping process, it is yet to submit its reply to two rules issued by the High Court asking it to explain the legality of the provisions for telephone tapping.

‘No reply to the rules has yet been filed with the court,’ a law officer in the attorney general’s office told New Age on Tuesday.

‘If the case is enlisted for hearing, we will submit the reply to the rules to the court,’ said the state attorney.

A High Court bench of Justice M Awlad Ali and Justice Zinat Ara on May 18, 2006 issued the rule on the government to explain why the Telecommunications (Amendment) Act 2006, made on February 16, 2006 making provisions for telephone tapping, should not be declared unconstitutional.

The government and the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission were also asked to explain the legality of the action taken by the commission in issuing the guidelines on March 16, 2006 tagging new conditions to licence of telephone operators under the amended law.

The court passed the order after hearing a writ petition filed by the New Age editor, Nurul Kabir, and the treasurer of the human rights coalition Odhikar, Tasneem Siddiqui.