They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

― Benjamin Franklin, Memoirs of the life & writings of Benjamin Franklin

Every human being has two lives: public and private. According to the harm principle, what one does in his private life should be nobody’s concern unless he is infringing on someone else’s right. To keep the state or any third party out of a citizen’s private life, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Article 12 states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence”. In fact, the Constitution of Bangladesh, the supreme law of the state, safeguards the right of every citizen to the privacy of his correspondence and other means of communication, subject to reasonable restrictions under Article 43.1 Evidently, both from legal and ethical grounds, the right to privacy is crucially important.

However, recently in Bangladesh, we have seen a very bizarre picture. Here, personal conversations are not only being eavesdropped and recorded, they are sometimes being broadcasted on national media. For the past few years, we have seen a lot of such phone conversations being leaked.2 It begs the question of who is responsible for eavesdropping and recording such audio conversations. 

Any authority has yet to claim any sort of responsibility for these. Whether these phone records are being recorded by any government agency or if there is any third party involved, is yet unknown to us. The amendment (2006) of the Telecommunication Act, 2001 brought many concerning and controversial changes to the law. Section 97A(1) gives the government the power to empower any detective agency, state security agency, investigative agency, or any employee of any law enforcement agency for a certain duration to intercept, record, or collect information from any text or conversation of telecommunication service users in the interest of state security or public order. This change was highly criticized by human rights activists as it may result in the government infringing on people’s right to privacy in such a broad manner. It is important to note here that Article 43 of the Constitution of Bangladesh protects the right to the privacy of citizen’s correspondence and other means of communication as a fundamental right, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, public order, public morality or public health.3 However, the restriction imposed under section 97(A) gives unreasonable discretionary power to the concerned executive authority. 4

In an Indian leading case, namely, Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, the Supreme Court delivered a unanimous verdict affirming that the right to privacy is a fundamental right and the breach of this right needs to be logical, proportionate and for public interest and in no way can it be used as a tool of oppression for the government.5 It was held in the case of Municipal Corp. v. Jan Mohammad that any law that confers discretion upon the executive authority to impose restrictions without providing clear and reasonable guidelines to regulate such discretion, will be deemed to be void. 6Moreover, Hamoodur Rahman, J in the case of Abul A’la Moudoodi v West Pakistan held that any restriction provided by law needs to include safeguards to prevent the possibility of abuse of power and whether the restriction is valid or not will depend upon the prevailing conditions of the time.7  By a plain reading of the newly amended section 97(A), it is pretty evident that the restriction here is unreasonable as it gives the executive unfettered discretionary power by keeping the grounds of the restriction vague and by providing no real guideline regarding the execution of the discretionary power. Furthermore, this confusion was clarified to some extent when the High Court Division ordered a rule against the concerned government authority to answer why such a clause is not unconstitutional in a writ petition filed by Nurul Kabir, Publisher of New Age, and Dhaka University Professor Tasneem Siddiqi.8 From these discussions, we get a good idea regarding why section 97(A) should be held to be ultra vires of the Constitution. But even if section 97(A) of the Telecommunication Act, 2001 were not controversial, the leakage of some of these audio recordings would have still been illegal under the very same provision. That is because a lot of these leaked audio recordings had almost nothing to do with state security or public order- grounds mentioned in section 97(A) of the Telecommunication Act, 2001. 

Another possibility is that these audio conversations are being intercepted and recorded by some unauthorized third party. Needless to say, that would constitute a clear violation of people’s right to privacy as well. Professor Dr Nawshin Nawar, Dhaka University, said to BBC that by creating a network with the help of a fake station, it is possible to intercept such calls. This machine is called an IMSI catcher. Moreover, by installing different spying software and bugs, targeted phones can be tracked from a distance and conversations can be heard. So, it is also possible that a third party has done this heinous act. Section 71 of the Telecommunication Act, 2001 prohibits eavesdropping and the punishment for this offence is imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or a fine not exceeding 5 crore taka or both.

In Bangladesh, on 28 August 2019, in the case of The State and Others v. Oli 9and Others, an honorable judge of the High Court Division, expressed concern regarding the ongoing trend of posting audio and videos of personal conversations between parties on social media. The honorable judge mentioned in the judgment, “It is our common experience that nowadays private communications between the citizens including their audios/videos are often leaked and published in social media for different purposes. We must not forget that the citizens’ right to privacy in correspondence and other means of communication is guaranteed under Article 43 of the Constitution, which cannot be easily violated at the instance of any interested quarter.”10 

What is equally concerning, if not more, is how these leaked conversations are being flagrantly broadcasted on some TV channels and leaked on social media. Broadcasting personal conversations between two people is not only unethical but also unlawful. Broadcasting personal phone conversations between two people on national television violates section 5.1.3 of National Broadcast Policy 2014, which says, “Any person’s personal or confidential or defamatory information cannot be broadcasted.” Hence, some of the renowned news channels of the country are violating the law as well as the National Broadcast Policy.

The consequences of this culture of breaching civilian’s privacy are horrific. Firstly, people whose audio recordings of personal conversations are being leaked are suffering a violation of a fundamental right. But what makes it worse is that these victims, as they are skeptical of getting any justice, are most of the time not even filing any case. The government and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) are not filing the case on behalf of the victims and the Supreme Court also is not giving any suo motu order. As a result, it is creating a culture of impunity on this issue, motivating others to do this offense. Hence, we can see that conversations, even those that have no political or national significance, are being leaked at a very high rate. Ordinary citizens are having to live in a state of fear and insecurity for their right to privacy, that should not be the case in a free, sovereign country.

This practice of recording and leaking personal conversations needs to be put to an end. Every citizen should have the right to live their ordinary lives without the fear of breach of privacy. Whoever is responsible for recording and leaking such conversations should be brought under law and punished accordingly. The government must stand beside the victims of such cases and take action against people and authorities who are involved in this. 

  1.  The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, art 43.
  2. M S Siddiqui, ‘Offence of uploading conversations or video clips online’ The Daily Star (Dhaka, 9 September 2022) <> accessed 24 June 2024. 
  3. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, art 43. 
  4. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Act 2001, s 97(A).
  5. Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v Union of India [2017) 10 SCC 1. ↩︎
  6. Municipal Corp. v Jan Mohammad [1986] AIR SC 1205, 1210. ↩︎
  7.  Abul A’la Moudoodi v West Pakistan [1965] 17 DLR (SC) 209.
  8. Asif Nazrul, ‘Who leak the personal phone conversations?’ (Dhaka, 29 May 2021) <> accessed 24 January 2024.
  9.  The State v Oli [2019] HCD LEX/BDHC/0128/2019.
  10.  Ibid.