[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.