By the look of it, the objective certainly is pious. But whether the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) can deliver on it is yet to be clear. The DMP move concerns preparation of a database for the residents of the capital city in the aftermath of rising crimes coupled with threats of militant attacks following the Paris carnage and in the perspective of killing of civilians in indiscriminate shooting by jihadists in the United States of America. In a densely populated city like Dhaka, criminals have the advantage of freely resorting to impersonation, using cover-ups for their true identities, to deadly effects.
So the objective obviously is to minimise -- or if possible -- eliminate the manoeuvrability by criminals and militants out on a killing mission. The priority is evidently to get at the most dreaded types of criminals who are obsessed in the name of religion to wage a war against liberals and progressive people. Such a database can indeed be very effective if it is prepared maintaining the highest standard of professionalism and integrity. Even lawbreakers of other types can be netted as well if the information collected is smart enough and authentic.
However, the way the DMP has embarked on collecting information for the database seems to have missed quite a few points. Given the records of the police, citizens cannot be blamed for the scepticism they have expressed about the end result. It is not for the first time that the DMP has taken such an initiative. In 2013, a similar move was underway only to be abandoned later on for reasons unknown to the public. More importantly, citizens feel concerned if the prying eyes will target only the activities of the gangs proving a potential threat to public life, property and social order.
Under the International Covenant on Civil and political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), every peace-loving citizen is entitled to enjoy a broad spectrum of human rights. How intrusive should be legal provision in order not to disrupt individual and family liberty is a very important question. Questions have already been raised about the forms supplied to residents in some areas of the city. The forms reportedly bear no monogram of the DMP and also no authentication by the relevant authority.
This is a casual approach and doubt will be cast on the intention as well. Before initiating a sensitive move such as this the need is to take the citizens into confidence. If convinced of the good intention, they will respond most positively to it by supplying the required information. But they will certainly need to be fully assured that the information provided will in no way be used with an ill motive for their harassment or implication in any false case. The difference between a person with no record of lawbreaking and subversion and an impersonator is apparently thin. It is the professional duty of the intelligence agencies to decode the secret or false information supplied by criminal gangs.
When so much is at stake, the city law enforcement agency needed better preparation for accomplishing the job. It would have been even better if the city corporations under the two mayors initiated the move in collaboration with the DMP. Right now the preparation of national smart identity card is going on. How smart it will be is not clear as yet. But given the earlier smart card carrying only a handful of information and a picture barely recognisable -- which will be the basis of the fresh smart card -- there is no guarantee it will be comprehensive enough.
Instead of doing the job half-heartedly, there was need for working towards a comprehensive national database. In that case, the scepticism now expressed would have been totally irrelevant. In keeping with the goal of a digital Bangladesh, the nation will have to go for such a database today or tomorrow. In hindsight, the realisation is that the earlier ID card project taken up twice in a dilly dally manner was nothing but a waste of time, energy and money. A national data bank is most essential and that alone would have been sufficient to meet the present need.
Since that has not happened, the capital city and other cities will as well feel the need for a database of their respective inhabitants. Other crowded cities are no less vulnerable to the anticipated attacks or criminal activities. If this is so, a middle ground can be found for preparation of a national database. The ultimate objective would be to prepare as comprehensible a national data bank as possible. But it should be done in phases. It has to be begun from the capital city and gradually other cities will be covered.
In that case, the city corporations should be in charge with active cooperation from the metropolitan police. But before embarking on collection of data and information, there has to be a very extensive campaign for this. People must be made aware beforehand of the need for such a database through media. City governance is an issue that is yet to be addressed effectively. But there is no harm assigning those to do the job of collecting information for preparation of a database of the areas under their jurisdiction as a component of the national data bank.