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TIB expresses concern over election-time govt’s approval of Data Protection Act

Dhaka, Nov 28: The Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has voiced concern over the cabinet’s recent approval in principle of the Draft Data Protection Act 2023, especially considering the timing amidst the announcement of the schedule for the upcoming national election.

In a press statement released today, the anti-corruption watchdog underscored the importance of this legislation and its far-reaching implications, highlighting that the process of soliciting input from the stakeholders during the law formulation has been going on for a long period.

The organisation raised questions regarding the circumstances and motives underpinning the hasty passage of this significant law by the cabinet amid the ongoing election process.

TIB has cast doubts on whether all aspects of passing such a crucial legislation have been meticulously scrutinised by the election-time government.

Although the Draft Data Protection Act has been undergoing positive revisions at various stages following recommendations from various stakeholders, including TIB, the process of incorporating globally recognised standards into a law with immense implications for citizens has been deliberately halted. The cabinet’s swift and contentious “approval in principle” of the draft law has occurred even before the incorporation of stakeholders’ feedback is completed, reads the statement.

“We submitted a number of recommendations to the relevant ministry, focusing on refining and clarifying the definition of personal data, ensuring judicial oversight for data protection, and establishing an independent supervisory body free from governmental influence,” TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said.

Mentioning that the responsible ministers assured them the draft would reflect these inputs, he said, “However, we are denied the opportunity to ascertain the actual state in which the draft law has received its initial approval, or whether it adequately safeguards public interest or not.”

He further said, “It has been disclosed in the Cabinet Division’s press briefing that the supervisory authority overseeing personal data protection will be under the government’s control. When the government itself is the largest data processor, it represents a blatant conflict of interest for the same government to control the body responsible for ensuring data protection.

“A truly effective supervisory body must oversee the government’s data processing activities while also safeguarding citizens’ data from arbitrary access by the government or its powerful entities. However, the proposed government-controlled board is unlikely to ensure this mandate. This glaring example highlights fundamental weaknesses within the draft law.”

The TIB ED further voiced concern over an excessive reliance on policy ordinances and orders, which could introduce uncertainties in implementing the law itself and potentially lead to undue interference from the executive wing.

“It is legitimate to question the meticulousness of the decision to approve the draft, as it diverges from the practice of limiting activities of the election-time government and deferring policy decisions until the newly elected government takes charge. We anticipate that the present election-time government, despite the ‘approval in principle’ of the draft, will suspend further actions and that the post-election government will engage extensively with the relevant stakeholders to advance the formulation of an acceptable law,” he added.

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