Dhaka, Bangladesh
Govt may intercept any social media content

Govt may intercept any social media content

Mazharul Islam The government is trying to push on Facebook and other well-popularised social media for establishing their local offices at Bangladesh for “intervening” in any content and collecting VAT. Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology Minister Mustafa Jabbar said the government will start directly “intervening” in any content on social media using “collected technology.” Saying that the state can control any website if it wishes to, he said: “We hope to intervene regarding any content uploaded on social media platforms, such as Facebook or YouTube.” Jabbar said it is a major achievement that the government has acquired the ability to control any website. “We have gained this power right before the last national election.” Bangladesh will insist on Facebook and another other social media for opening offices in Dhaka and getting a VAT registration from the National Board of Revenue. State Minister for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Zunaid Ahmed Palak said Facebook has approached the government for a meeting to sort out some burning issues. A committee has been formed to do some homework before the meeting, which would be between September 21 and 23. After the meeting, the ICT minister told The News Today that they will discuss security and tax-related issues at the meeting and ask them to set up an office in Dhaka as soon as possible. “Bangladesh has become a very important market for Facebook and Youtube as already three crore users are connected with the platform and they are earning huge amounts from here.” Facebook’s Bangla language team will also be present at the meeting, the minister said, adding that law enforcement officials would be asked to attend too. Matters pertaining to data privacy and national security will also be discussed at the meeting. In the last budget the NBR has stipulated that all social media platforms set up an office in Bangladesh or appoint an agent to ensure 15 percent value-added tax and 4 percent advance income tax are paid to its coffer. The size of the digital advertisement market in Bangladesh is about Tk 2,000 crore and almost half of it goes to Facebook, according to market sources. “The government cannot intervene yet regarding content uploaded on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, because they have to comply with the ‘American Community Standard,” he said. “But the good news is, we hope to overcome this issue in September this year when the government will have the power to intervene directly,” Jabbar said. “This means that nobody will be able to circulate anything on a whim.” Slamming the government move, human rights activist Advocate Sultana Kamal said: “Except social awareness, the state’s intervention cannot stop the abuse of social media. “The decision to control will take a heavy toll on the freedom of speech and thought,” she observed. Sultana Kamal suggested that controlling social media content may bring a temporary solution, but it will be able to do nothing in the long run. The government must come to a final decision taking social, cultural, and political aspects into consideration, the rights campaigner said. She said that the government always blames a vested quarter for rumors and propaganda on social media, but never reveals who those people are. Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua said the government initiatives will deepen legal complications relating to social media. “Why does the government have to block or control a Facebook post or YouTube content before a court motion?” he asked. Saying that the country’s political area has not been vibrant for quite a long time, Jyotirmoy suggested: “Many are raising their dissenting voices on social media, which will be badly hampered once the controlling starts.” He warned that intervention in the freedom of speech will cause dire consequences as it is a move that violates the constitutional rights of a person. “Article-39 of the constitution has some provisions to restrict the freedom of expression, but it does not entirely clarify the parameters in this regard,” the lawyer said. Cases under the Digital Security Act (DSA) will increase notably, he feared, adding that the law can also be used as a tool to scare dissenters into silence. The government is introducing a ‘content filtering’ mechanism to prevent the spread of rumours and propaganda on social networking sites. Later in the day, the minister told the newspaper that the government has been working on a “safe Internet” campaign since January. As part of that campaign, a significant number of porn and gambling sites have been blocked.

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