RAB seeks purchase of new spy tech

Muktadir Rashid and David Bergman

Rapid Action Battalion is seeking to purchase advanced surveillance equipment that monitors social network communications, analyses mobile phone call records, and ‘recognises’ voices on mobile phones.
It is also trying to buy equipment that jams mobile phone use in designated areas.
Earlier this month, the battalion published on the government’s Central Procurement Technical Unit website two ‘invitations for tenders’ involving the ‘Procurement of Intelligence Equipment for RAB HQ’ detailing the four kinds of equipment.
The tenders come at a time when the battalion has been accused of significant violations of human rights, including allegations that it has been involved in disappearances of opposition activists and politicians.
In addition, earlier this month, it was reported that Swiss authorities had stopped, apparently on human rights grounds, the export of a Bangladesh-bound ‘IMSI catcher’ which was to be used by the battalion.
An IMSI catcher masquerades as a mobile phone base station and logs the telephone numbers of all the phones in a particular area.
Leading privacy rights organisation Privacy International criticised the new attempt by RAB to purchase equipment in the light of its ‘serious human rights abuses.’
‘The fact that RAB is trying to buy advanced surveillance systems that aim to give them wide scale and intrusive access to the private communications and data of the general population is extremely worrying,’ it told New Age.
Rights activist Nur Khan Liton also observed that the use of this kind of spy equipment would hamper freedom of expression.
‘The ongoing sense of fear in the country will be consolidated,’ said Nur Khan Liton, the director (investigation) of rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra.
The state minister for home affairs, Asaduzzaman Khan, told New Age the government had decided on these new purchases in the face of the ongoing crisis in the country, and rejected criticism that the equipment could be misused.
‘The equipment is being used everywhere. Even I myself and my cabinet colleagues are also being monitored…The country needs to be protected and people need to be saved. It is our aim,’ he said.
RAB director (administration) Wing Commander Mufazzal Hussain, who invited the tenders, said that different law enforcement and security agencies in the country were already using similar equipment that RAB was now seeking to purchase for its own use.
The first of the two tender invitations, dated March 9, stated that RAB was seeking three different pieces of equipment – a ‘Location-based social network monitoring,’ a ‘GSM Double Band Jammer’, and a ‘Voice Analyzer (Voice Matching Solution)’.
Social network monitoring software would allow RAB to monitor all social network communications, including those on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, made from within a city, street or a particular building.
One company, WeLink, which advertises this product to law enforcement agencies around the world says that ‘officers can mark their area of interest and receive real-time public social media data and information from social media channels.’
A GSM double band jammer would allow RAB to stop all mobile phones operating in any designated area, which can be narrowly defined. This purchase is particularly significant in light of the government’s abortive attempts in recent weeks to prevent mobile phones operating from BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia’s office.
At present, phones can only be jammed by getting all mobile phone companies to block a relevant mobile phone tower which can result in unnecessary disturbance of many thousands of mobile users.
A second tender, dated 15 March, seeks the purchase of a forth item, a ‘CDR Analysis System’.
CDR stands for ‘Call Detail Record’ and provides information about a particular call that has been made. A system that analyses CDR of individuals or groups can obtain information on relationships between different people, communication and behaviour patterns, as well as location data during calls.
One company, Purple Radiance, that sells this software to law enforcement authorities states that the most simple analysis of a person’s CDR can provide ‘common callers of a number’, ’details of those common callers’, ‘common locations of a number’, ‘first and last calls of a day’ and ‘movements and plotting route on Google maps.’
Analysis of multiple numbers can provide even more complex intelligence.
‘CDR analytics software can often reveal more information about an individual than actually listening in on their calls,’ Privacy International warns.
The legal basis for this surveillance comes from an amendment in 2005 to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Act 2001.
The new sections state that ‘in the interest of the security of the State or public order’ the Home Affairs ministers ‘may authorise from time to time for a specified period’ any ‘officer of an intelligence agency, national security agency, investigation agency or law enforcement agency’ to ‘block, record or collect information relating to any message or conversation of any telecommunications service user.’
The original 2001 law defines ‘telecommunications service user’ to include those who use the internet, as well as a telephone.

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