Internet freedom of expression has shrunk during the pandemic

Bangladesh’s internet freedom has developed worse in the years of the pandemic than in previous years, according to a new report by the international think tank Freedom House.

The Freedom Online 2021 report gave countries a score between 0 and 100, with 0 being the least free and 100 being the most free. Bangladesh received 40 points, two points less than last year.

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The country has been classified as a “partially free” internet because, over the past year, it blocked social media access, blocked access to websites, shut down the internet, arrested and physically assaulted internet users, and carried out technical attacks on the internet.

Bangladesh was classified as “partially free” in 2019 and 2018. In those two years it had scored 44 and 49 points, respectively.

According to the report, Bangladesh is one of 38 countries where government agencies have instituted legal or administrative reforms affecting the way technology companies manage user data.

A new data protection law proposed in Bangladesh last October would also require domestic data retention, the report said.

“The Bangladesh Draft Data Protection Act contains provisions on data localization and mirroring. It also contains extremely wide and far-reaching investigative powers, including the power to have access to all personal data and access to all premises,” the report said.

It states that the draft National Cloud Directive of Bangladesh 2020 provides for explicit data localization for all personal and official data.

“[According to the draft policy] Transfers of data are only permitted for backup purposes, but only if the data does not contain any personal or sensitive data or data that would otherwise “not harm the security of Bangladesh and important infrastructure” and if the transfer takes place in a country in which Bangladesh can fully enforce its laws through bilateral or multilateral agreements, “according to the Freedom House report.

The report ranks countries in three broad categories: barriers to entry, content restrictions, and user rights violations.

To identify barriers to entry, the report examined infrastructural, economic and political barriers to entry; Government decisions to interrupt connectivity or block certain applications or technologies; legal, regulatory and property control via internet service providers; and independence of supervisory authorities.

To assess the extent to which content is restricted, the report examined legal provisions on content, technical filtering and blocking of websites, and the use of digital tools for citizen mobilization.

User Rights Violations Examines Legal Protection and Restrictions on Freedom of Expression; Surveillance and privacy; as well as legal and extra-legal implications for online activities, such as criminal prosecution, extra-legal harassment, and physical or cyber attacks.

In order to evaluate a country in this criterion, questions are asked, for example, whether online activities that are protected according to international human rights standards are punishable by criminal law and whether the state surveillance of Internet activities violates the user’s right to privacy.

Bangladesh received the lowest possible score on these two questions. It also scores extremely poorly when it comes to the question: “Do online journalists, commentators and normal users practice self-censorship?”

The report said: “More governments have introduced problematic rules to remove user language from Internet platforms. Some of the laws are designed to suppress content that is critical of the government instead of protecting users from harmful material. “

Other countries that perform in the same area as Bangladesh are Iraq and Rwanda.

“Democratic governments have an obligation to enact regulations that allow users to express themselves freely, share information across borders and hold those in power accountable. Otherwise, new technologies could help reinforce and accelerate the global decline of democracy, ”the report said.

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