Asian subcontinental nations aim to control citizens access to internet
by Paul Michaud
Paris, September 30 - Two times in the last two weeks alone, international journalists’ rights organisation Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) has issued complaints with regard to the way that countries in the Asian subcontinent, notably India and Bangladesh, have been attempting to limit their citizens’ access to the Internet.
BANGLADESH: The first warning came in mid-September when RSF expressed its concern over proposed changes to the 2001 Bangladesh Telecommunications Act that would allow governmental authorities to tighten control over e-mail traffic and legalise invasion of privacy and undermine free expression and would also permit evidence based on e-mail interception to be used in court. At the time RSF also quoted freedom of expression activists who said they feared the amendments would turn the country into a "police state."
"Respect for confidentiality of personal information obtained from Internet service providers (ISPs) or through e-mail messages must be an unshakeable principal of any democratic society," it said. "New information technology allows greater monitoring of personal messages and the Bangladesh government must respect the privacy of its citizens and their right to communicate freely."
The Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC), said RSF on September 14, reportedly drafted amendments to the 2001 law at the request of the intelligence agencies and the law ministry which have cited reasons of national security and the need to fight terrorism. The intelligence agencies want access to the subscribers’ database of ISPs and to use in court cases material gathered through currently-illegal interception of private e-mail. One academic told The Daily Star newspaper that such interception "could be used as a weapon to blackmail people."
The intelligence agencies, cautioned RSF, also wanted to amend section 30 of the Telecommunications Act (concerning privacy) to read (addition in italics): "To ensure protection of the privacy of telecommunications subject to the national security laws."This kind of general clause would allow intelligence officials disturbingly greater scope to intervene. Some freedom of expression activists cited by RSF said that they feared the amendments would turn the country into a "police state." The changes also seem to contradict the 2001 Act’s main purpose of setting up an independent commission (the BTRC) to regulate telecommunications.
INDIA: Only last week, RSF severely criticized India for its own growing censorship of the Internet, and accused New Delhi of blocking access to all Internet discussion groups operated by Yahoo!, and this as a side-effect of its decision to ban access to the " discussion forum, which New Delhi says is linked to the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council, a banned separatist group in the state of Meghalaya.
RSF demanded on September 28 that New Delhi immediately rescind the instructions issued to Indian Internet service providers that they block access to the "Kyunhun" discussion forum, questioning the need to ban this discussion group in the first place and voicing its "outrage" over the measure’s consequences, for the Kyunhun site is hosted by Yahoo!, and an unintended and unfortunate side-effect of the ban is that all Indian Internet users have now lost access to all Yahoo! websites.
"This case highlights the danger of Internet censorship giving rise to complex technical problems," RSF secretary-general Robert Menard said. "Blocking a few web pages can result in the blocking of hundreds of other web pages that have nothing to do with the banned content - this is a recurring problem over which we must remain very vigilant."
The decision to block the Kyunhun discussion group was announced by the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN), a government agency which has the power to block Internet sites deemed to be obscene or a threat to state security. This is the first time the agency has adopted this kind of measure.
Indian ISPs complied with the instruction by blocking Kyunhun’s IP address, a crude procedure that makes no distinction between this forum and other Yahoo! forums. They thereby rendered all of the forums hosted on groups.yahoo.com inaccessible.
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