Draft data protection law is a matter of concern: US envoy

06 February 2023

News Desk :
US Ambassador Peter Haas has said the US government and businesses mulling over making foreign direct investments in Bangladesh expressed concerns about the ramifications of the new regulations the telecom regulator introduced to regulate the social media sphere and over-the-top platforms and the proposed data protection law.
"We worry the data protection act, if passed with strict data localisation requirements, may force some US companies currently operating in Bangladesh to leave the market. The online platform regulations will similarly dissuade companies from investing in their businesses here if they face criminal liability for user content. The consequences could have negative effects for Bangladesh," Haas said during a panel discussion at the EMK Centre in Dhaka on Sunday.
After making it clear that his country respects Bangladesh's right to choose for itself and recognises the necessity to govern online content to protect end users, he said the US government has already conveyed its concerns to the Bangladesh government about "the regulations for digital, social media, and over-the-top platforms the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission and the Ministry of Information have introduced, as well as the draft Data Protection Act, reports bdnews24.com"
"The consequences could have very negative effects on Bangladesh. Over 2,000 startups could be put out of  
business, and services that Bangladeshis use millions of times daily could become inaccessible. The culture of innovation crucial to attracting business requires openness and freedom online," he said.
New draft BTRC regulations for social media, data protection law are matters of concern, says US Ambassador Haas
Stressing that accepting criticism is a hallmark of a strong democracy, Haas said the US is concerned about the broad dentitions of the draft online platform regulations.
"We are concerned about the broad definitions for what type of online content is deemed criminal. We are also concerned about the announcement that 191 online news portals will be blocked. The ability to accept criticism and ensure freedom of speech even when that speech is unpleasant are hallmarks of a strong democracy."
The US authorities have already discussed the issues with civil society organisations and journalists, the US envoy said, adding that his country is worried that these regulations and laws will restrict fundamental human rights and freedoms.
"We are concerned that the latest draft of the DPA does not provide for an independent data oversight authority and includes criminal penalties. While each country must design laws that apply in its local context, there are clear international standards we urge all countries, including Bangladesh, to uphold."
Bringing in the US context, Haas said Washington knows first-hand how important it is to have discussions with stakeholders to combat disinformation and protect vulnerable groups and encourage business growth.
"Online speech and data protection are not easy issues to address. This is incredibly complex. From Washington to Silicon Valley, we have had to learn many lessons, and we are still learning and openly debating these complex issues."
The US ambassador also advised Dhaka to balance development and security with democracy and human rights.
"These values are all linked and mutually reinforcing. Protecting human rights and upholding democracy strengthens a country's economy and brings sustainable, inclusive prosperity. We are encouraged that the government of Bangladesh continues to consult with commercial and business entities, civil society, and international partners on these topics. This openness is commendable."
He also said his country hopes that the next draft of the proposed DPA incorporates feedback from these sectors.
"We firmly believe that an appropriate balance between international data protection standards, economic connectivity, and individual rights will facilitate this country's continued development."

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