Crackdown on internet users in Bangladesh

E-Bangladesh

E-Bangladesh

E-Bangladesh is a News/Headlines service and a group blog aimed at bringing the news and analysis from Bangladesh to its readers.

  • RAB & BTRC pinpointing internet users with fast connections.
  • ISPs instructed to reveal admin password, user data.
  • “Traffic scanners” to monitor internet users.
  • BTRC memo leaked to E-Bangladesh. 
  • [An E-Bangladesh exclusive.]

    RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) members assisted by BTRC (Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission) officials are conducting house-to-house searches in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet pinpointing each and every internet user with a fast connection. In an unprecedented move that clearly violates privacy rights and threatens freedom of speech and communication, a special cell comprising RAB and BTRC officials are now collecting user details — name, address, login and usage statistics — from all the ISPs (Internet Service Provider) in order to profile more than 450,000 internet subscribers in the country.

    Officials from different ISPs in Dhaka, Sylhet and Chittagong have confirmed to E-Bangladesh that they were verbally instructed late September by the authorities to:

    -Provide a list of all their subscribers with name, address and connection details.
    -Share the admin password of internet gateway servers.
    -Facilitate installation of “traffic scanners” provided by RAB on gateway routers. 

    A memo issued by BTRC that instructed ISPs to share/reveal sensitive private data of internet users, business details and technical information was leaked to E-Bangladesh. This memo, BTRC/E&O/ISP-Gen.(302)/2007-1697 , issued on September 26, was signed by Dilshat Ara Shela, Assistant Director Engineering & Operations, BTRC. It instructed and advised 72 ISPs in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet:

    -To provide BTRC with details of bandwidth lease and usage.
    -To provide details of “corporate/dedicated/shared” clients: Name, address, IP. 
    -To provide copies of technical agreements with connectivity providers. 
    -To reveal individual client MRTG URL with user id and password.

    “ISPs must have complete information regarding the exact location of the client,” the memo advised. Failure to comply with BTRC demands may result in closure of the ISP, it warned.

    A senior BTRC official, on condition of anonymity, claimed to E-Bangladesh that BTRC is assisting RAB members in their crackdown on illegal VOIP operators. He could not, however, explain why regular home users are being targeted.

    In Dhaka , in the last week of September, a broadband user in a residential area received, as he described to E-Bangladesh in an email, “uninvited guests:” 5 plainclothes RAB men and 2 BTRC officials. 

    They said they were looking for VOIP equipments… Clearly they saw I did not have any of those. Still a RAB member was asking me questions and taking notes, like, what I do in real life and internet etc… I doubted if those people even knew anything about VOIP, they were checking my computer… Even my MSN Messenger and Skype contact lists were checked… How could I explain to someone who did not even know about voice chats? 

    Similar reports of RAB visits to internet users in Chittagong and Sylhet have been confirmed. One user in Sylhet expressed his frustration via email,

    Is it a crime, to have an internet connection? They were misbehaving even when they wanted to check my computer. I was telling them I did not do any VOIP business then why check my computer… No one is talking about this. Now if my sister wants to use internet RAB will come and search for her, what nonsense is this?

    [Translated from Bengali.]

    In another email, a System Administrator of one of the ISPs told E-Bangladesh, If this continues then using internet in Bangladesh will become a crime sometime soon. We have to shut down our business. These people [RAB] enter our server rooms without permission and ask stupid questions and misbehave. I was informed by my sources inside BTRC that these house-to-house searches will intensify from next Thursday. If they go to people’s houses like this they will stop using internet out of fear.

    If I have to reveal my admin password, user logins and passwords, what kind of service am I going to provide? Where in world they have found this formula?

    The ISP Association of Bangladesh — umbrella organization of internet service providers – could not be contacted. BTRC officials declined to issue any official explanation. Repeated attempts to contact RAB headquarters in Dhaka for its version of the story failed.]

    Are you a victim of the ongoing crackdown on internet users in Bangladesh? E-Bangladesh is interested to publicize your story. Your anonymity, if requested, will be guaranteed. Mail Tasneem Khalil, Consulting Editor, E-Bangladesh at tasneem at e-bangladesh.org describing your experience, story tips, comments or feedbacks.

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    E-Bangladesh is a News/Headlines service and a group blog aimed at bringing the news and analysis from Bangladesh to its readers.


    447 Responses to “Crackdown on internet users in Bangladesh”

    1. Salam Dhaka

      Unprecedented and taking a very dangerous turn. We seem to be heading in Burma’s direction.

    2. Ranjan

      The speech of FUA at the UN was bullshit, the promise given by MUA of going back to barrack was bullshit. We are heading towards Burma-style. Be prepared for another Muktijudho.

    3. Miraj K

      I’ve previously raised this very issue of Bangladesh becoming a copybook”‘1984.” Didn’t think it would begin so soon!

      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bangla_ict/message/5002

      …..is this [IGW/ICX] the next step to email/www monitoring?? the right to “information access” without fear or monitoring is the fundamental and preeminent element of an open/free society. if we fail to ensure that, we would be one step away from becoming the next Panopticon in Asia like Burma or China…..

      This current action is primarily carried out under the purview of an amendment [of 2006] to BTRC Act, 2001 which basically gives blanket wiretapping/monitoring powers to law enforcing agencies. BTRC Act 2001: Amendment 97: a, b, c.

      http://www.btrc.gov.bd/act-2001_admen.pdf

      Although this amendment contradicts one of BTRC’s prime directives: “To ensure protection of the privacy of telecommunication.”

      BTRC Act, 2001. Para 30(1)(f): http://www.btrc.gov.bd/telecomact.htm

      And I’m not sure searching individual private citizens’ residences are permitted even under the amended rules! And there may be doubts on the constitutionality of the entire 2006 amendment.

    4. Echowallah

      Once again, our world class journalists from EB are twisting the truth, dramatizing the situation and blowing things out of proportion. This is merely a propaganda war against the reformist government again. What RAB is trying to do is clampdown on illegal VOIP, not on the right to use of internet. I don’t believe the story about RAB going home to home, because I have many friends, colleagues and others using broadband all over Dhaka, not a single one of them narrated any story like this. Attempts to paint the BD situation to Burma will be a mistake. Check out today’s Washington Post. What is happening in Dhaka is indeed a “silent revolution” against two parties, two leaders, two sons and others involved in rampant corruption, pandering to religious militancy and incompetent governance that has made BD almost a dysfunctional state.

    5. Bangladesh Corporate Blogs

      I still hope there is room for trust amongst us. We are not against or for any party, be it political or military or caretaker. We want freedom of speech but we want responsible use of it too. Also, jumping to conclusions too early too soon may not be a good idea any longer. So lets wait and dig this story. Thanks.

    6. Tanoy

      Echowallah: I think you have very little idea about the actual picture and you have not read this post properly. What you say is irrelevant. E-BD is reporting only based on facts and figures. You may have lots of military friends not civilians. Just go through the report and read it carefully.

      — To provide copies of technical agreements with connectivity providers.
      — To reveal individual client MRTG URL with user id and password.

      I think you need to know what is MRTG. With that they will have access to all user details. Now about the VOIP drama. I wrote a lot before on capacity constrain in BTTB. I don’t want to divert things here. This issue remains hanging for a longtime pretty much what happened with the independence of judiciary. BTTB and BTRC are the symbols of the corrupt institutions in Bangladesh.

    7. Bourne

      Yes. My relatives living in Bangladesh have reported similar incidents indeed. I would not go into so much details, but are the BTRC people so damn stupid that they have to go in to houses and offices to check for VoIP equipments? Can’t they simply check the graphs? And as far as I have heard, all internet traffic is supposed to be routed through BTTB itself. Whatever the hell they are up to, they are making a big fool of themselves to the international community. Bullocks.

    8. Arnab

      Echowallah: I have a solution to your problem. It might actually work. You can just move on you know. If you think this is biased then do not come here anymore. To me it looks pretty legit as I see lots of proofs right in front of my eyes in this post. Now, if you cannot see the proofs laid in front of you then I must wonder who is actually the biased one here. Also, Echowallah, see, the government will not tell everyone in public that they are going after people with internet connections. They need a bogus thing to cover the real intention. In addition, you can be rest assured that the CTG will not knock into the doors of majority of the people because they are normal public. However, journalists and activists from E-Bangladesh and related sites should be in a bit of problem. In this connection, there is no way your friends will be knocked either Mr. Echowallah because they must be hardcore worshipers of CTG like you. LOL

    9. Mafuja Akhtar

      It is very bad to invade into private life. Bangladesh government may be inspired by the Burmese junta. I, by my heart, hate this kind of law that is against human rights.

    10. Mash

      Echowallah: how do you know what RAB is doing? The document posted above suggests the military government is doing a lot more than what you suggest. Your criticism of EBD would be more credible if you actually countered with facts rather than childish attacks. This seems to fit the pattern of intimidation this government has been engaging in. When all legitimacy fails all that is left is intimidation and fear. So this news does not surprise me.

    11. Abu Arif

      Are you serious? You got to be kidding me. Now that freaking media has made a peace deal with government, I wonder where would people go to obtain real news.

    12. Aronno

      Well, DGFI was trying to hack peoples computer from years ago, but they couldn’t because previous governments did not provide any permission to do that. They bought Mobile Interceptor (A device to listen to mobile conversations). But that mobile interceptor didn’t worked with Grameen phone. For this they are forcing the mobile operators to record the conversations of any number they want. Now the situation is searching from home to home is really embarrassing to innocent peoples. In our country achieving knowledge is a crime. It will no longer be accepted. It will lead us to civil war.

    13. Masum

      The picture painted here is way out of proportion. There is nothing sinister in the RAB/BTRC wanting the check MRTG of a customer. The MRTG graph is vital in detecting VOIP activity and whether it is being done in a business scale. No private information can be leaked from this graph. BTRC wanting to have basic information of internet clients is exactly the same as their requirement for mobile phones. This is not new. RAB searching from home to home for VOIP equipment is a bit hard to believe. They wouldn’t be able to do it even if they had 100x the manpower they have now.

    14. Iconus Clustus

      Friends in DS were talking about a program called ESCHELON… something that helps to monitor email exchanges… don’t know if they have installed it, but by the sounds of things, it surely seems like something darker and deeper is going on in this land.

    15. Cannot-Express

      I am sure there is some kind of interference. No doubt. I have given up using the Internet for almost a week. It is frustrating!

    16. MIAH

      Man! They are going to knock me on to my door and tell “Hey Mr. you are charged with using the internet…We came to verify it and set u free!”

      Come on! What will happen to the IT sector of this nation if people cannot use internet at home? Many new stuffs are learnt from home. People will always use internet from home. What is wrong with that? I don’t know or understand what got into those people’s mind. I hope they think more rationally.

      Technology advancement may be there but at the same time if individuals are empowered (a huge advantage of the internet) then advancement is actually enhanced to a great degree.

    17. Protik Pronab

      This is nonsense, barbaric, uncalled for. This should be stopped. The real face of the caretaker government be uncovered. In the name of clamping down corruption what has been carried out is simple mockery. FUA should seek forgiveness of ordinary people and leave.

    18. Sujan Sikder

      Well I read the whole thread…. What the hell is going on? Where is our privacy? How could they be like this? No wonder… We live in Bangladesh! Damn….

    19. Isnt_it_me

      Guys hold on… it’s bad if they start invading into peoples’ houses like that… but one thing we have to consider that a lot of VOIP businesses are run from home with a dedicated connection… The way reports are suggesting it sounds like some fools are fooling around in peoples’ houses whereas they should be monitoring the traffic and crackdown on unusually hight traffic users… again that should be done based on experts opinions.. not some asshole RAB’s opinions… but… really someone has to let them know voice chat and VOIP business is not the same thing… again honestly … we have to stop illegal VOIP businesses… it can be a very good revenue generating sector for the government… not for CTG…. I am saying for any future government… if we get one anytime soon.

    20. Isnt_it_me

      By the way… I don’t see any problem about using internet from home… some people are freaking out that this is against using net from home… no it’s not… if it was like that, all they had to do was tell the ISP to shutdown… lol… and some people are concerned about their privacy… But guys… anyways some people will always have some control over your user/usage details… its not always as private as you think… so if you are not doing anything illegal… you need not to get panicked… Well don’t get me wrong here… I am not a supporter of the so called… CTG …. I strongly doubt they will leave or they have any intention to leave anytime in the near future… but I also don’t believe in opposing and misinterpreting anything and everything…

    21. Biddut

      Though I am late reading in all threads here, any how I have just read it all. It seems to me there are some miscommunication. The Illegal VoIP Expedition Team headed by Director Intelligence RAB, has 4 police officers, 4 Telecom engineers from Teletalk and BTTB, 3 engineers from BTRC and 2 legal members. So the team is well organized and technically efficient. They only conduct raids basing on some information given by somebody. Unfortunately, this information some time may be totally false and ill motivated. They have not started going door to door. Which is even not possible. RAB has only few people say a dozen only for this type of operation. If they have knocked wrong people like the one I read above, may be because of wrong information given by some vested person.

    22. Muhamad

      A while ago we had an individual telling us that they were employed to monitor us. This individual was presumptuous and intimidating. Now, I don’t mind their presumption but they intimidate us at their peril. These tactics aren’t anything new. We are now seeing the military’s true face.

    23. Shiplu

      Isn’t_it_me:

      What do you think? If they say you are doing illegal things, can you protest it? I don’t think so. Because, what they say, is the only and only matter, not what you/we think. If they say, doing voice chat is related to VOIP and illegal, it’s illegal then. If your default Fedora/Linux distribution installs Ekiga soft phone, they will arrest you as a VOIP operator. This will happen because they are IT illiterates.

    24. Protik Pronab

      There is no point trying to justify any act of this civil-military coalition government. So far their acts have not been pro-people and the on-going operations of finding illegal VOIP operators/e-mail users is only one of the many unprecedented actions to frighten public and ensure that public don’t take any position against them. It’s just to make sure that their position/power is not being questioned/challenged. The civilian part of this coalition is actually constituted of some spineless characters; only interest of these characters is to secure as much fortune as they can by simply licking the feet of the military. They won’t have any concern over people’s right to privacy, freedom of speech/ expression and dignity. Because of their total failure, lack of integrity and lack of courage all the advisors of the CTG have lost their legitimacy; in the current situation when they have demonstrated their complete failure, only way for them to save their face is to commit suicide.

    25. Imran M Yousuf

      From my personal experience I can state the Army is not knowledgeable enough to crack down on VoIP. Moreover it is not difficult to block illegal IP; any CS graduate can set up a filter at ISP premises to detect VoIP packet transmission and thus detect the IP using it. Then the hunt gets narrowed; and it is so easy to setup. The problem is there are resident users doing VoIP business, and thus this erratic step has been taken. I think that they should be more knowledgeable about it.

      I also feel that if anyone can propose a solution, in that case it should be proposed to the government and help them; after all cracking anything illegal is GOOD, IMHO; irrespective of whether it is a civilian or non-civilian government imposing it.

    26. Amit Paul

      Imran VOIP is a technology. No Technology of the
      world is illegal rather to bar any thing is just stupidity. BTTB has bared FAX Machine in Bangladesh for 2 years because of the revenue of Telegraph machine. Now Telegraph Machine is in Museum. So this is the demand of reality VOIP should be opened. Govt can’t deprive of the Bengladeshi

      of home and abroad to take the benefit of one of the wonders of 21st century called VOIP for the sake of interest of a white elephant called BTTB.

    27. Protik Pronab

      Amit and Imran: There are other politics involved in it. Don’t view all these as simple legal/illegal or knowledgeable and ignorant issue. These are rather a power issue; an issue of maintaining interests of certain quarter — unfortunately that quarter does not serve the interests of ordinary people. That’s why the politics of fear — to make people live in fear. Cracking down VOIP or secretly recording conversations of RU teachers in jail cell are all part of the same game. Just to show people how big their hands are that they can access anything and anywhere. I wonder what year they live in! This is after all 21st century. No one, even a legitimate government cannot stop its citizen from enjoying benefit of modern technology. And this civil-military coalition is an illegal, illegitimate government. They are in power by force. Ask them to conduct a referendum to test their legitimacy. You’ll see the true feelings and actual position of people that they want this government GO and GO NOW!

    28. Imran M Yousuf

      Amit bhai and Protik bhai, firstly I very well know the benefits of VoIP than most of the people, trust me I know. My point was not that VoIP should not be legal or anything like that, I very well know people advocating legalization of VoIP is actually doing so for earning money and I am not against it; I agree that all people should have the right to earn and it should be open for all. My point was that we who are criticizing the government for their actions have our rights to do so, but at the same time it is also our duty to propose alternatives. How many of us have proposed the GOB alternatives?

      Currently the GOB is preparing a license for VoIP and which is I think too complicated and also introduces monopoly in the market. But what are we doing to avert it? We are criticizing the GOB for cracking down on illegal VoIP but has anyone who is criticizing even filed a petition? I know that this will take long time, may be several years, but the point is we are trying to patronize illegal activity rather than doing the right thing of discussing how it should be done.

      One thing is pointed out here very well that the law enforcers are ignorant about the technology and I know that when we civilians approach them with something we have our own financial benefit in that approach/proposal. I from my personal experience know that we are selfish enough to think about our own benefit rather than national benefit. You may ask me have I done any of the things that I said, fortunately or unfortunately I have; may be no avail but I tried in the means possible by me. And I will keep trying as long as possible.

      Coming to the point of legitimacy of the government; I will not go into argument but will say that the major political parties are/were/will be busy with political business rather than civilian benefit and upliftment. To me I do not find neither BNP or AL to be fit to run the country. Now we need a true leader to guide us and not those political parties and this government is not at least worse than those government. In conclusion if we feel that this government or the political parties are worthless than we should get united and form our own party. Internet is a good medium to form this platform.

    29. Protik Pronab

      Imran:

      Just one quick reaction: Seizing people’s rights is not a duty or responsibility of any government; it’s rather the opposite. The government’s responsibilities include the protection of citizen’s rights and ensuring an environment that allows citizens to use their full potential for their personal as well as national growth and development. The present government is doing the opposite; and the question of legitimacy comes then when there is no basis for one to act in one particular fashion. The way this government has been conducting itself does not fall under the framework of the caretaker government; yet they don’t admit in public that this is a military rule. So what they are, isn’t this a big question?

    30. Rommel

      Are you people serious? Or is it all just a big joke? RAB is now going to monitor all the data that are being transfered through the internet? What do they intend to achieve? And isn’t it violating the privacy act of Bangladesh government? Or Bangladesh government don’t even have such an act? LOL.

    31. Imran M Yousuf

      As I already said, I am not in against/favor of this government because none others, e.g. we, did not come ahead to do politics because of the security factor in Bangladesh, so criticizing them is easier. All I am saying that instead of criticizing can we the E-Bangladesh readers unite for a single cause? Can the young generation unite for a single cause? I think we can but the problem will be when the leadership will be selected, so I say we do not need a single leadership but rather collecting leadership where no single personnel can take decision but it has to be taken collectively; so that equals all. Buts the question is and remains — can we unite?

      If we think that we can not make a change then IMHO we should not criticize or even ask questions.

      Coming to the point of internet monitoring; it is not so easy that RAB wants and sets up surveillance in a second; such a setup is very costly; what RAB will probably do is target few people and monitor their activities in particular. IMHO two groups will mainly be targeted — free thinkers and so called free thinkers. The second group is motivated by a political party’s goal and the first group is motivated by patriotism. But unfortunately there is no way to distinguish them.

    32. Impetuous Person

      I would suggest that government train those persons properly who are conducting the investigations. These are not like interrogating corrupt businessmen or so. Government has to think that they are taking action against home users. Yes, government can do it by spelling out netiquette. “Think before you act.”

    33. mashruf

      I am worried about the present situation of Banladesh. Is she going to be another Afganisthan? Alas what a govt. !

    34. Md. Mizanur Rahman

      I think now every executive are busy to advertise their activity and not active really. The present government started anti-corruption operation. Perhaps it is about to abolish. But I know it is not true. Police yet taking bribe, people are getting minimum favour from many police. Muscle men yet threatening the weak. Cause me with my family is the victim. We have not get justice due to lack of money. Now I have to earn money to get justice.

    35. I dint see them at my door

      we bangladeshi love rumars..and we will continue loving it..As the way this article descibed I was thinking oh it is horoble..Then i realised hey isnt it dec 2008?? so what happend in middle of the whole year? oh yea..another joke..hehehe…rumar is what we love to hear and love to spread…

    36. Omi Azad

      I assume if anyone is so desperate to do something wrong, there is no such thing that can stop him.

      In technical aspects, lots of things cannot be covered by law, lots of things cannot be controlled. If a user’s MRTG shows your upload/download speed is same, then the people who are monitoring it can suspect you. I know one software can change the graph too. So, if you use that, you won’t be a suspect. 🙂

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