In Counter-Terror Move, Dhaka Police Require Tenant Information from Landlords

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
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160301-BD-landlord-620.jpg Dhaka police are facing complaints over their tactic to require landlords to provide personal information about their tenants by the middle of the month, March 1, 2016.

In a new tactic to prevent militant and criminal activity in apartments or rented houses, police in Dhaka are requiring landlords citywide to gather and hand over personal information about tenants by March 15.

Landlords who fail to complete the necessary form could face legal action, Dhaka police officials warn, yet the move is drawing criticism about potential violations of privacy in a metropolitan area of at least 16 million residents.

“The Police Act does not allow them to collect personal information from the people. [T]here is a risk of the data getting into the wrong hands in the absence of a data protection law in Bangladesh,” Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua told BenarNews.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) say they need landlords to assist them by collecting details from tenants – including renters’ occupations, national identity card and passport numbers, passport-sized photos and information about relatives – that would go into a database. Police also are requiring landlords to provide them with similar information about themselves.

At a news conference on Monday, DMP Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia explained the rationale behind the campaign.

“In many cases, the owners rent out the houses to unknown people. They cannot come to know whether their houses are being used [as] militants’ hideouts. So, we need the data of both the landlords and the tenants,” Mia told reporters.

He added that information in the database would only be open to the police.

“We can assure you that there would be no harassment,” Mia said.

This move by the police follows raids of rented houses in the Dhaka area in February that uncovered hideouts belonging to the banned militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team. ABT is the same group that Bangladeshi authorities suspect was behind last year’s murders of four secular bloggers and an editor in five separate attacks.

On Tuesday, Barua served the home secretary and inspector general of police with a legal notice asking them to explain under which law or authority police could collect such personal information from citizens in this manner.

Private information about people could also be compromised, he said.

“[T]here must be an institutional mechanism to hold the police accountable in case the data is passed on to the wrong persons,” said Barua, adding that he would file a writ petition if he was not satisfied with the response from  the home secretary and the police inspector-general.

Reactions mixed

Giasuddin Ahmed, a landlord who owns several houses in Dhaka’s Nakhalpara area, complained that being compelled to gather information about himself and his tenants could create “unnecessary” problems.

“The government maintains a national database and every adult national has an identity card. Collecting a copy of the national identity card of the tenants and the landowners is enough. The police can access the national database,” Ahmed told BenarNews.

Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan, the general secretary of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh, expressed doubt that the new tactic would be effective in helping police counter militant threats.

“I do not think creating such database would help fight militancy. The police are overworked,” he told BenarNews.

“[I]t will result in police harassment of landlords,” Bhuiyan added.

Babu, the owner of a five-story house in Pallabi, Mirpur, was more amenable to the task, but he said he had yet to receive the form from police.

“I do not see anything wrong with the move. It will help us to find keep vigil on the tenants whom we cannot always track,” he said.


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