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Bangladeshi telecoms authorities disable messaging app to subdue protests

It’s never nice to hear of Governments wielding their power to censor its citizens, but it seems that in Bangladesh, that’s exactly what’s happened.

According to reports, popular messaging apps such as Tango and Viber have been blocked by the Bangladesh Telecommunications and Regulatory Commission who are hoping to thwart anti-government protesters who have apparently been using the apps to coordinate their protests.

The Government has attempted to justify these actions by saying that the measures have been taken in response to the protests turning violent, and when asked how long the ban is estimated to last, replied with a terse “for the time being”, suggesting that citizens won’t have their messaging privileges reinstated any time soon.

This isn’t the first time that technology has been implicated in helping to orchestrate social disorder; back in 2011, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) came under fire for its part in the London protests and the riots which followed. Many of the participants were said to be using the secure messaging service to communicate with each other and the police approached BlackBerry (then RIM) to gain access to these secure messages as part of their investigation.

The recent protests in Hong Kong also shone a spotlight on how free, secure messaging services can help bring people together. FireChat, a messaging program which can broadcast messages without an internet connection, was heavily relied upon by pro-democracy protesters, along with WhatsApp and Twitter, but even in the maelstrom of protests that occurred, the usually heavy-handed Chinese government declined to block people’s communications.

We’re not sure that such sweeping measures by the Bangladeshi government will have any sort of positive effect; with so many messaging apps available, it’s likely that protesters will simply move on to something else, and given the fact that they’re protesting against the government in the first place, such Draconian action will likely galvanise the protesters against their common enemy.

Censorship is a hot topic at the moment, given David Cameron’s recent ludicrous comments about banning encryption in the UK and Barack Obama’s own bold statements regarding sweeping new powers to snoop on US citizens (as if the horse hasn’t already bolted on that one, Mr Obama!), so seeing what really happens when you treat your citizens like criminals might help get through to the political elite that censorship is never the answer in a forward society.

“The Internet treats censorship as a malfunction and routes around it.” John Perry Barlow said, and we can’t help but agree with him.


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