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BANGLADESH: RAB and BTRC compile list of Internet subscribers

Bloggers concerned government will use list to monitor Internet activity and censor users

By Jaime Mendoza
AsiaMedia Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Earlier this month, Bangladeshi authorities ordered Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide them with a complete list of Internet subscribers and their confidential data in order to profile the country's Internet users.

According to the blog E-Bangladesh, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) wanted names, addresses, connection and usage details and server passwords among the information requested.

Members of RAB and BTRC also began searching homes with high-speed Internet connections.

The lists and searches are all part of the Bangladeshi government's crackdown on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) operators that began in December 2006. The government considers their businesses illegal based on the Bangladesh Communications Act 2001. In July 2007, RAB seized VoIP equipment and arrested two employees from Westecs Bangladesh Ltd. This month, BTRC fined Banglalink for providing VoIP services.

But according to Global Voices Online, a non-profit global media website, the crackdown is partly motivated by declining revenues at state telecommunication company Bangladesh Telephone and Telegraph Board. Small VoIP operators have proliferated in the absence of regulations and offer cheaper services. Global Voices also suspects the Bangladesh government is trying to eliminate the competition before it grants VoIP licenses to four operators.

A senior BTRC official speaking on condition of anonymity with E-Bangladesh, however, couldn't explain why "regular home users" were included in the VoIP crackdown.

In a BBC Bengali report, translated into English by E-Bangladesh, international law expert and Catholic University of Brussels law professor Ahmed Ziauddin said, "This issue is alarming... [Because] BTRC is not clearly saying what they will do with this information... Section 43 of the Bangladesh Constitution provides [a citizen] the privacy of his correspondence and other means of communication... It appears that BTRC's actions are violating this provision."

Bloggers are outraged and concerned. Mashuqur Rahman, who is also a contributor for E-Bangladesh, wrote in his blog that bloggers have filled the void of mainstream media in critically discussing the government's suppression of civil liberties. He believes the Internet subscriber list will be used against bloggers.

"The goal of the military government appears to be both to monitor Internet activity in Bangladesh and to intimidate Internet users and bloggers into silence."

Interviews with ISP officials and a BTRC memo leaked to E-Bangladesh confirm that all 72 ISPs in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet must also install RAB "traffic scanners" on gateway routers and provide each subscriber's Multi Router Traffic Grapher URL user id and password, which easily allows monitoring of Internet usage.