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It definitely looks like law enforcement in Bangladesh–as also apparently in many other countries, e.g. reference: the British Home Minister’s recent opinions regarding social media, not forgetting similar persistent efforts in the US–is going through a phase that maybe described as mid-life crisis. That’s the time when people—especially men, we’re told, but lots of women too though theirs are somewhat different—say, do, think, whatever, bizarre stuff.

According to one expert (needless to elaborate, there are innumerable of them around the world) there are 14 signs of this often-hyped crisis, and here they are:

1.Buying a Sports Car. 2. Drastic Changes in Habits, Mood Swings, and Impulsive Decision-Making. 3. Shifts in Sleeping Habits.4. Obsession with Appearances. 5. Disconnecting from Old Friends, and Replacing Them with Younger Friends. 6. Feeling Tied Down, with No Chance for Change. 7. Thoughts of Death or Dying. 8. Changing Careers. 9. Leaving a Spouse or Having an Affair. 10. Bouts of Depression. 11. Increased Consumption of Alcohol or Drugs. 12. Listless and Bored.13. Assigning Blame. 14. Recent Traumas.

While an ordinary mortal’s crisis may not coincide or even seem similar to those of law enforcement entities, the critical point to note is the strangeness of the desires or wishes. As a footnote it can be added that at least a few of the signs appear creepily close to those experienced by those who maybe described as leading a “civilian life” of a mere citizen.

Anyhow, as it may be. Not too long back some from law enforcement expressed the plea—and that too right to the prime minister of the country—that they should be relieved from all strictures related to torturing/tormenting persons arrested by them and in their control. We shall leave the prime minister’s reaction to speak for itself since no clarification is required.

The latest demand of the law enforcing leadership relates to becoming a Facebooker. (Just a point of personal disclosure: This commenter has never been registered with the aforementioned Facebook and most certainly has no intention whatsoever to do so anytime in the future. One particular reason: With so much prying into an individual’s life, why bother?) Simply stated this is what law officials desire: Intending Bangladeshis should disclose their National Identification or at the very least their identities while signing up with Facebook.

It has been noted in various forums and publications that this country’s law enforcement mechanism and general guidelines, apart from upgraded training, require urgent reconsideration—even if the top brass could be feeling that since they’re functioning to help, assist and abet the political power, nothing else but only preserving the powers that be in a pleasant frame of mind matters. Apparently there’s ample evidence to bolster that conclusion.

More than clearly as events have shown, law enforcement units seem to be in need of being sensitized to the realities of the world—and that holds true for numerous other such organizations in numerous other countries too—including a essential quantity about the rights of citizens and the duties of law enforcement toward them, the state of the world since the time the Brits left these shores, and that professionalism will serve a lifetime but not pseudo-political pronouncements.

These, among other necessary measures, may ultimately succeed in instilling in the relevant persons that asking for a total and comprehensive control of people’s life would appear to make things easier for the law enforcers (au contraire, if no acquiescence comes then it’ll provide them with material to explain away any inadequacy) but it could very well lead to a contrary impact; and it certainly would not go down well with the citizens whom, it perhaps might be added, the law is supposed to protect, serve and defend.

Following from the above, it seems the junior minister for telecommunication and another from the ICT ministry—along with her powerful law enforcement officials, of course—feel strongly the Bangladesh administration must have some control on the social media platforms especially Facebook, for whatever reasons which, though, must be seductive enough for them to unrelentingly pursue just as a Scottish king is said to have learnt about perseverance from a spider.

The ostensible cause, it appears, is the “dreadful influence” that is being wielded via Facebook (FB) which in turn is heinously impacting many people who in their turn are resorting to even more heinous actions. The professed obsession with Facebook—which doubtlessly will warm the cockles of M. Zuckerberg’s heart, and little wonder given that he and wife P. Chan feel they can afford to raise another child—of the junior minister and others in the Bangladesh administration would indicate that once the government can successfully bring Facebook under some degree of restraint this country would be free of all the various types of crimes, militancy, terrorism, et al.

But in this pursuit of exerting pressure on Internet outlets it clearly looks like we’ve been ignoring and overlooking more relevant realities. For instance to stem the tide of crimes the crime fighting machinery itself must function with some essential degree of efficiency, dedication, sophistication and fairness, among other factors, and just as importantly scrutinize the causes that are leading to those criminal incidents. In this context let us also look at another fact: In this nation’s avowed pledge to transform this country into a “digital” one we’ve evidently taken our eyes off the road.

As a consequence, according to a report of the Alliance for Affordable Internet, Bangladesh has gone down thirteen rungs in the Internet affordability drivers’ index among fifty-eight developing and least developed countries. This was caused, per the Alliance, due to the country’s slow progress in this sphere compared to the other nations. In the previous year Bangladesh occupied the 33rd place with a score of 39.13 while in the following year it slid to 46 with a score of 39.41 out of one hundred.

Against this backdrop lately there’s been much more talk of how the country’s authorities can oversee, control, and for all practical purposes administer Facebook for Bangladesh with the acquiescence of Facebook officials. Hence this fascinating report from a few days back: “Facebook has turned down a proposal to sign a memorandum of understanding on requiring national identity card or passport numbers/copies for Bangladeshis to open accounts on the social media website, Inspector General of Police AKM Shahidul Hoque said.” He also asserted that he told an FB manager, “[T]here must be some restrictions for opening a Facebook account.” Simply extraordinary, even if incredible.

A portion of the backdrop is also the fact that FB usually removes offensive materials if and when any government makes such a request (which, naturally, has to be grounded in reason). It also complies with other kinds of requests including deleting an account altogether if conditions so warrant. Bangladesh’s wish also elicited this reaction from Bangladeshi IT expert Sumon A. Sabir, as per a report, “I doubt if any other country had ever done this [made a similar request]….We were negatively portrayed when we blocked Facebook and some other social media sites in 2015.” Sabir also underscored that Facebook has a privacy agreement with its users and therefore it cannot breach at will. The last part evidently will demand some sophisticated thinking to comprehend.

Earlier news stories and administration pronouncements point to a remarkable reality, i.e. myriad government officials have been obsessing on FB for some time now and, as has been noted above, have exhibited extreme determination in their devoted efforts to get through to the FB management with different arguments. If FB wanted to accept all the expressed desires of the Bangladesh authorities, in all likelihood, they’d have to float a separate Facebook exclusively for the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Wow. Wouldn’t that be something to crow about! Sophisticated thinking not required here.

What, apparently, government leaders have been missing are the proverbial woods for the metaphorical trees. While various categories of crimes have moved northward, while intelligence on “militants” and/or “terrorists” have been moseying way behind their seeming activities, while the streets of Bangladesh have become deadly beyond belief as hundreds of lives are being lost merely because truck and bus operators are neither qualified to be behind the steering wheel and nor do they have to fear the wrath of the law—the roster could get pretty boring if this commenter wanted to go on—administration luminaries have all too evidently been zeroing in on the superficial instead of investigating the causes.

We’re talking of actions and what pass for thoughts in a milieu in which rationally managing vehicular traffic is incontrovertibly beyond available capability, in which murders remain unsolved mainly due to muddled circumstances, in which abductions by personnel associated with the law enforcement apparatus are often denied with the blandest of countenances, in which persons prone to fumbling with the TV remote control have automatic arms at their disposal—plainly this roster too could be monotonously long. The truth however is, it’ll be immensely more constructive and productive to unbolt paths to inform, educate, elucidate and provide modern training to people needing them rather than defending them from authenticity as if they’re retards.

The writer has been a media professional, in print and online newspapers as editor and commentator, and in public affairs, for over forty-five years.

  • K SHESHU BABU

    Social media in Bangladesh has been vulnerable to the ruthless violence of fanaticism. Even bloggers outside the country have been ruthlessly murdered by the fanatics and Facebook posts are always fraught with danger. Hence, longings for freedom of expression are not extra- ordinary to the world by any stretch of imagination