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Lives of Others

November 16, 2014

On September 15, in its latest revelation, whistle blowing website wikileaks set forth the purchase of surveillance software FinFisher by one of the Bangladeshi law enforcing agencies from a German company.

In fact, Bangladesh procured 6 such software of which licenses of 4 already expired and the remaining two licenses have expired on November 15.

The revelation would have gone into oblivion if it had not been a front page news of a national daily.

We do know our agencies can tap our cell phones, keep a close eye on us 24/7; however, we were unaware that they have the capability to monitor our digital lives in real time.

The revelation brought to the fore privacy of ordinary citizens. Bangladeshi laws even the constitution address the privacy issue but they give more weight on security of the state when the two confront each other.

And there is no demarcated line that says how far the agencies can go in breaching the privacy of citizens.

Clearly, existing laws and the article in the constitution regarding privacy have some loopholes that should be plugged in.

The revelation also sheds new light on the hacked Skype conversation between one of the International Crimes Tribunal Judges (ICT) and another judge living abroad. Though the conversation was about seeking professional exhortation, disclosure of the hacked conversation ultimately led to the resignation of the judge.

Initially, it was reported that the copy of the hacked conversation had been obtained from a foreign source. But after the revelation, the whole hacking incident demand that we relook at it from a different angle.

In a country like Bangladesh, deviating from the main purpose for which such technologies were bought, they are often used to spy on opposition politicians, activists and political dissidents.

The very daily that drew our attention to spyware purchase also carried a report about the procurement of a technology, known as mobile catcher. The technology allows the purchasing agency to identify cell phone owners who gathered in a political meeting at a certain area.

Playwright Dreyman, one of the characters in the film ‘The Lives of Others’, wrongly believed that none spied on him as he was famous and maintained that he held onto regimental beliefs till the very end of the collapse of East Germany. It was the sympathetic Stasi agent Wiesler whose misreporting actually saved his life.

Containment of BNP clearly came into play in buying the technology. Equipping law enforcing agencies with such technology for the purpose of having a close eye on the opposition does not comply with a democratic party that believes in freedom of speech of others.

Like Dreyman partisan officials and party loyalists may have a false belief that they are not being watched. But Wiesler is a fictional character and one can hardly find him in real world. In our country, loyalty comes with a price tag.

One day AL may find itself a prisoner of its own digital fortress.

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