The Digital Security Act is being “transformed” and “modernised” and will now be named the Cyber Security Act, in which sections of the existing law will be amended.
The government did not pay heed to the demands by civil society members and others to repeal the DSA and draft a new law in its stead.
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The draft law was approved in principle at a cabinet meeting yesterday, and will now be sent to parliament. It is expected to be passed in September.
Section 25, which criminalises the publication of “false”, “offensive” or “threatening” information, still carries a jail term, albeit reduced by a year to two years.
However, defamation, as criminalised by section 29 of the law, will no longer carry jail time.
“If the fine imposed is not paid, there will of course be jail time of three or six months, depending on the fine. But the main penalty will be a fine,” Law Minister Anisul Huq told reporters after the cabinet meeting.
Some offences that were previously non-bailable are now eligible for bail, including section 31, which is deterioration of law and order, section 32, which criminalises the breaching of government secrecy, and section 28, which criminalises the hurting of religious sentiment.
Four other sections that were previously non-bailable have also now been made eligible for bail.
The jail term for hurting religious sentiments will be reduced from five years to two, as per the new changes.
Offences like hurting the image of the country, its national flag, Father of the Nation and the spirit of the Liberation War are still criminalised by this law, but the jail terms have been reduced from 10 years to seven, according to a copy of the changes received by this newspaper.
These, however, continue to be non-bailable offences.
Other non-bailable offences include section 19, which entails damage of computer, computer system, etc; section 17, which criminalises illegal access to any critical information infrastructure, etc; section 27, which criminalises cyber terrorism; section 30 penalising illegal e-transactions; and section 33, which criminalises the illegal storage and transfer of data.
Cabinet Secretary Md Mahbub Hossain said that while the DSA was more focused on punitive prison sentences, the Cyber Security Act puts more emphasis on financial penalties.
The DSA harshly penalised repeat offences, but such provisions have been struck off in the new version of the law.
The Digital Security Agency will now be transformed to National Cyber Security Agency.
“The provisions for cyber security that were in the last [version of the] law have been kept untouched in this new one,” Huq said.
Meanwhile, those facing charges under the DSA will now see their cases continue under the new version of the law, but only after it comes into effect.
Huq added that section 33 of the DSA has been scrapped and a section on hacking offences has been introduced in the Cyber Security Act. A hacking offence will carry a maximum jail term of 14 years or a maximum fine of Tk 1 crore, or both.
Following the announcement, Amnesty International South Asia, Regional Office in a tweet said, “The government must ensure that the Cyber Security Act it plans to replace the DSA with does not rehash the same repressive features of the DSA.
“The government must also ensure that all stakeholders have sufficient opportunity to scrutinise and make recommendations on the proposed new law before it is enacted, and that its provisions fully comply with international human rights laws.”
However, Cabinet Secretary Mahbub declined to share a draft of the version, stating that it will only be made public when it is placed before parliament as a bill for a decision on whether it should be passed or not.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, said, “We are concerned that many of the objectionable provisions of the DSA continue to be included under the new [version of the] law.
“We encourage the government to not include the DSA sections that pertained to the repression of opposition voices. Let this new version not be the DSA with a new cover.”
Earlier, the law minister on several occasions had stated that the DSA will be amended by September