(Writer: Tarana Halim, the state minister for posts and telecommunications of Bangladesh.)
I am writing this — not as a state minister but as a citizen of Bangladesh, who loves the country and its people. Many lost their lives when the social media were used to spread rumours that somebody’s face was reflected on the moon. Again responding to a post (on the social media), some people attacked a Buddhist monastery. We have forgotten all.
We have also forgotten that many countries have temporarily suspended the internet even today for the safety of their people. The citizens of those countries have accepted the shutdown for greater interests. They have made no objections of any kind. Maybe they wonder whether the lives of so many people could have been saved (in France) if social networking sites had been temporarily shut down before the tragedy struck.
Let me mention another incident. A Pulitzer Prize winning photographer pictured a vulture stalking a hungry baby. The photograph was iconic. He had had two alternatives: either he could take the picture or pick up the baby and rush him to a nearby hospital. The first alternative seemed attractive to him. He captured the scene.
The photographer won the Pulitzer Prize — a rare recognition of his work. But his conscience haunted him: if he had not taken the picture and rushed the baby to any nearby temporary medical centre instead, at least he could have tried to save the baby. Out of remorse, he later committed suicide.
We have become hard-hearted and cruel. So, one has to stand in the dock for trying to save people’s lives. I thank all those who ridicule the attempts to save people’s lives. Perhaps that is why robots are replacing humans. Are we that far away from becoming robots?
Now I switch my role and write from the standpoint of a people’s representative with a request to print the whole write-up, not in parts. Let us not forget that partial news spreads confusion.
First, the social media were shut temporarily for public safety as well as at the request of the home ministry. I reiterate that the move came as part of the government’s responsibility to provide safety to the public.
Second, you have noticed that this time no major subversive activities took place before or after the announcement of the verdicts against two top war criminals. The man who attacked the pastor has been arrested. Those who issued death threats to noted personalities have also been arrested. If you contact the home ministry you would know how many conspirators of subversive activities were arrested this time thanks to the suspension of the social media.
Third, “No, we did not cut off our heads to cure a headache”. These social networking sites will be made available once we receive the green light from the home ministry and a directive from the government. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure safety to the public. If one life is lost due to the opening of social media, people will blame the government again. Why should we then be so hesitant if the government seeks cooperation for public safety?
Fourth, were alternative measures possible? It has been about four and a half months since I have become the state minister. In the meantime, we have started registration of SIM/RIM, expedited the Bangabandhu satellite project, lowered the prices of bandwidth, rejuvenated Teletalk, introduced biometrics, expanded e-cash transfer services for the postal department, and started the process of procuring 118 vehicles and introducing MNP (mobile number portability).
Within three days of taking the reins, I initiated the drive to face technology with technology.
After taking responsibility as a state minister, I have started the process of importing internet safety solutions to face technology with technology. It will ensure that objectionable content from abroad is filtered before it enters the country, in an effort to enhance the safety of people, including women.
I have directed [relevant departments] to scrutinise the DPI capacity of IIGs and inform the IIGs within seven days to install DPI with proper capacity as per the conditions tagged with the licences.
I have instructed the BTRC to prepare a database of ISPs and licence-holders, and to prepare a list of those who are providing unplanned internet connections.
Work is in progress. Three months is not too long and you will see results soon.
I thank and express immense gratitude to those who have shown patriotism by cooperating with the government by the way of accepting the temporary inconvenience of the social media shutdown for the public interest, for finding out the saboteurs and for saving people’s lives.
Caution should be sounded out to those who use social media through alternative means that their IDs may be hacked.
I am proud to play a role in saving lives and ensuring safety as a public representative. Still, I apologise to them who have attacked and berated me personally.
It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure public safety as per government directive. I take humbly the serious rebuke of those for doing this task with honesty and sincerity. Because of this, a child may be standing unhurt beside his or her mother somewhere — with a smile on the face. This achievement is not very small for me or anybody else.