Bangladesh’s proposed digital, social media, and OTT platforms regulation needs a complete overhaul

Bangladesh’s oppressive draft Regulation for Digital, Social Media and OTT Platforms must be scrapped before it jeopardises people’s freedom of expression, right to privacy, and online safety.

Access Now, representing an international coalition of 45 organisations, is urging the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to immediately withdraw the draft regulation, and instead focus on ensuring access to an open, accessible, and secure internet in Bangladesh to all people.

“Bangladesh’s current draft digital, social media, and OTT platforms regulation doesn’t belong on the discussion table, it belongs in the bin”, said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Senior International Counsel and Asia Pacific Policy Director at Access Now. “The country’s proposed upheaval of digital rights would not only trample free speech, but risk people’s safety by obstructing encryption and increasing the risks to journalists, activists, and civil society actors — already at risk with existing flawed laws in Bangladesh.”

While the rules were technically open for consultation, an initial February 18 deadline for submissions allowed a mere 15 days for stakeholders to unpack and analyse impact, and submit meaningful input. While the timeframe has now been extended, the gesture doesn’t mask the BTRC’s  failure to provide in organising authentic stakeholder engagement.

“We’ve watched as the consequences of these rushed, heavy-handed content regulation rules — often fast tracked into law — take effect on online civic space,” said Namrata Maheshwari, Asia Pacific policy counsel at Access Now. “Authorities in Bangladesh should not follow in the repressive footsteps and mistakes of other countries, and instead seize this opportunity to solidify rights online in their democracy.”

In anticipation of an extended and reworked consultative process, the coalition is calling for action to address:

  • The need for safe harbour provisions, and a reassessment of excessive penalties for intermediaries and their employees, that will quash free speech and instigate over-censorship;
  • The removal of the traceability requirement that will undermine end-to-end encryption, violate privacy and thwart free expression;
  • Reasonable timelines for content removal that will reduce the risk of knee-jerk over-censorship, excessive pre-censorship, arbitrary decisions, and erosion of due process; and
  • Clearer definitions that will circumvent a one-size-fits-all approach to regulate multiple services that are functionally, technically, and operationally different.

Read the open letter.