Nowadays internet has become a major source of knowledge and information as well as one of the effective ways of communication and expression of thoughts and feelings. It matters to every citizen's day to day life. People are increasingly getting dependent on internet.
The Internet has revolutionized the way people interact and exercise their freedom of expression, opinion and information which are their fundamental rights. The right to internet access is arguably implicit in established human rights, including the freedom of expression, which is codified in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). According to the UN, disconnecting people from the internet violates these rights and goes against the international law. So, imposing any restriction or interruption to use internet may be treated as violation of human rights. With this understanding many countries by this time adopted policies to make uninterrupted access to internet. On the other hand, some countries are still strictly controlling and sometimes deliberately downing the internet access to bar the public voice and expression. To strengthen human rights and freedom of expression, an online Internet Freedom Declaration was made in 2012 in defense of online freedom and was signed by several internationally prominent organizations and individuals. It supports the following five basic principles;
1. Non-censorship of the Internet
2. Universal access to fast and affordable networks
3. Freedoms to connect, communicate, create and innovate over the Internet.
4. Protection for new technologies and innovators whose innovations are abused by users.
5. Privacy rights and the ability for Internet user to control information about them is used.
Since singing the online freedom it draws attention across the globe. And in 28 April 2022, European Union, USA and international partners have proposed a Declaration for the Future of the Internet. It has said that the declaration and its guiding principles will be used as a reference point for public policy makers, businesses, CSOs and citizen. Till now about, 60 partners have endorsed the declaration. All the Member States of the European Union and more countries are expected to follow it too.
The digital experts, CSOs and human rights defenders appreciate for such kind of move to establish internet freedom for all and reinforce democratic principles, fundamental freedoms and human rights as reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They welcome the Declaration's call for a global internet that protects human rights and encourages democratic participation through universal connectivity, privacy, security protections, and multi-stakeholders' governance.
Though the signatories of the declaration for the future internet express their strong concerns about the repression of Internet freedoms by some authoritarian governments, the use of digital tools to violate human rights, the growing impact of cyber-attacks, the spread of illegal content and disinformation and the excessive concentration of economic power. In Bangladesh digital experts also raise same opinion. They share their opinion that the digital technologies have the potential to promote connectivity, democracy, peace, the rule of law and sustainable development, if people enjoy it without any unauthorized and unwanted restriction.
Mr. Rezaur Rahman Lenin, a noted digital rights activist and researcher in Bangladesh, said, "We are seeing a trend of increasing digital authoritarianism worldwide. Some states take steps to stop people from speaking their minds, block independent news websites, interfere in elections, spread false information, and deny their citizens other human rights." The Declaration doesn't talk about mass digital surveillance, which the U.S. government and its Five Eyes partners were the first to do, or the profiling and data collection that are part of big tech companies business models and that help them spread misinformation, he commented.
Active Internet use in all parts of life affects how the digital age's social, political, and economic factors work and are combined. These facts raise the issue of state-level Internet regulation, especially in lawmaking. Despite the principle of the law in time and space, the Internet is cross-border, which presents some obstacles.
Mr. Lenin said, the need to create such mechanisms of interaction in this area to prevent assaults on freedom of speech, human rights, and interests, as well as to avoid problems and strengthen the positive impact of the Internet. Foreign experience can help regulate the Internet. It should consider the following;
1. Private and public laws apply. Thus, Internet regulations are often complex, obscuring the right to privacy.
2.Since the network architecture is trans boundary and most regulation is international, one cannot limit oneself to national legislation.
3. Private actor's regulation of the Internet predetermines the existence of soft law norms in international and national Internet law, which affects the classical hierarchy of sources of law based on the norm's general obligation and "state origin".
4. The diversity of legal sources regulating the Internet requires a conflict of laws to resolve contradictions and norm conflicts. The Internet is a unique infrastructure that national or international laws cannot fully control.
In Bangladesh, CSOs and rights-based organizations, experts are long demanding for internet freedom and digital rights. But the development is very poor and still the internet is not liberated and remains partially free. Its international score remains as much as low. Bangladesh has scored 43 points out of 100, improving three notches from the year before, according to the Freedom on the Net 2022 report, indicating the country partly enjoyed internet freedom. Digital security specialist Mohammad Sahil said, 'The DSA includes provisions for regulating online activity and criminalizing various forms of online speech, including defamation, fake news, and hate speech. While the law is intended to combat cybercrime and protect digital security, some critics argue that it infringes on free speech and is being used to stifle dissent.' All these steps, although meant to help people exercise their digital rights, have somewhat gained international attention when free thinkers got prosecuted under the purview of the act, he added.
However, authorities often arrest online critics of the government, ministers, and political leaders under the Digital Security Act (DSA), fueling self-censorship online. Security agencies continue to invest in surveillance equipment and use harsh laws leaving Bangladeshi user data even more vulnerable to exploitation. Officials have sought to increase their technical capacity and legal authority to censor online content.
To give benefit of the act to citizens, Mr. Sahil emphasizes to sensitize the people about their responsibility for exercising free speech unless every citizen understands civic responsibilities and has ethical concerns.
As per the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) shows in last January 2023 country's total number of internet users to 124.08 million. Since COVID 19 pandemic, the number of internet users, mostly the students and young people, has been increased mainly due to remotely study and works. The users find the internet quite useful and continuing their attachment.
It may mention, internet freedom in Bangladesh improved over the last year, following three years of decline, as internet users experienced fewer restrictions on online mobilisation, mentioned in the Freedom on the Net 2022 report by Freedom House. It also said, Bangladesh has scored 43 points out of 100, improving three notches from the year before and indicated that the country partly enjoying internet freedom.
The think-tank believe that the internet has strong impact on socioeconomic development, strengthen independent media and freedom of expression, and supports achieving the country's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So, it should be noted that any unauthorized restrictions to control internet means interruption to the country's development, violation of human rights, democratic rights and freedom of expression.
Author is the Editor and CEO of News Network
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