Loopholes in the country’s call monitoring law is said to be abused by the government
A digital rights expert and Senior Program Manager at Paradigm Initiative (PIN), Mr. Adeboye Adegoke, has faulted the Lawful Interception Regulation of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) saying it is prone to abuse.
The regulation, which came into force last year, mandates all telecommunications operators to monitor all calls passing through their networks and must be ready to submit the same to security agencies whenever the need arises.
Adegoke in a report titled: ‘Digital Rights and Privacy in Nigeria’ noted that while the regulation requires security agents to obtain court warrants before intercepting calls, “the NCC has failed to create effective systems of accountability around these processes.”
“For example, the agencies authorised to intercept communications must submit a comprehensive annual report to the attorney general, but this disregards the fact that the Office of the Attorney General is not separated from that of the minister of justice, and that its role has increasingly been defined by the politics of regime preservation as opposed to the rule of law,” he said.
He added that “in the Nigerian context, reporting on data interception to the attorney general creates a conflict of interest to the extent that the legal oversight authority does not have the necessary political independence from the sitting government as a potential offender.”
The Lawful Interception of Communication Regulations, 2019, which also falls under the ambit of the Nigerian Communications Act, sets out the conditions in which communications in Nigeria may be intercepted, collected, and disclosed.
The regulations make it an offence to intercept any communication in Nigeria except by an authorised agency. The Department of State Security and the Office of the National Security Advisor are authorised to intercept communications subject to a court warrant. A draft of the regulation first came into light in 2013 and was strongly condemned by stakeholders who felt it contradicts the mobile subscriber’s right to privacy as enshrined in the constitution.
They also feared that such regulation would be subjected to abuse by the government in power against the opposition. However, the document showed that the regulation was gazetted by the Federal Government in January this year. Meanwhile, Adegoke also called for a review of the Cybercrime Act 2015 as it is also prone to abuse. He said the Act should also be repealed and re-enacted after a review.
“The Cybercrime Act is also prone to abuse and has been used in a plethora of situations to improperly breach digital and data privacy rights. “Section 24(1)(a) states that ‘any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of a computer system or network that is grossly offensive, pornographic or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character or causes any such message or matter to be so sent’ has committed an offence under the Act and shall be liable for punishment.
“However, 24(1)(b) makes it an offence to similarly sending messages or other matter ‘for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another.
This provision has been used to quash freedom of expression since it was enacted. Its imprecise language makes it easy to target journalists, bloggers, and media practitioners with inconvenient views.
Many Nigerians have been harassed, intimidated, arbitrarily arrested and detained, and unfairly prosecuted for expressing views perceived to be critical of the government, whether at the federal or state level,” he said.
“The Cybercrime Act 2015 should be repealed and re-enacted after a review of the sections that have been abused to stifle the rights of Nigerian citizens, he stated.
Adegoke added that there is also the need for public education about the privacy implications of applications and the internet to build a community of self-aware citizens who understand their digital rights and can demand them from companies, institutions, and the government.