On Tuesday 24 February 2015, a bill, Cybercrime Bill passed second reading at the House of Representative – the lower legislative arm in Nigeria. The Bill which seeks to intercept and monitor personal communications empowers security agents to intercept, monitor, and record electronic communications between individuals and seize usage data from Internet Services Providers (ISPs) and mobile networks. It further gives power to security agency to order telecommunication companies to conduct surveillance on individuals and release user data to authorities. Now, personal emails, text messages, voicemail, and multimedia message can all be intercepted, recorded and monitored under the guise of facilitating criminal investigation. And there are penalties attached to an infraction of the provisions. First, a person is liable to not less than 1 year jail term or a fine of N2 million; “guilty” of using public electronic communication network to send a message deemed “indecent, obscene, menacing, or false”; which causes annoyance, inconvenience, or anxiety. Second, the Bill prescribes death penalty for a person who “commits crime” against critical national information infrastructure – computer systems, networks and information infrastructure vital to national security of Nigeria, or the economy and social well-being of its citizens. However, where the offense results in grievous bodily injury; the offenders shall be liable to imprisonment for a minimum term of 15 years. And a life jail term awaits any person that accesses or causes to be accused any computer system or network for the purpose of terrorism. Now, here’s our fear and source of agitation.
Fundamentally, the Bill is a blatant breach of and slap on the face of constitutionally protected right to privacy of citizens communication which lies at the very heart of human dignity. If the Bill is passed into Law, it would officially give power to our power-drunken security agency to snoop on us, monitor our communications, and possibly blackmail the citizenry with recording of our private activities.
Closely linked to this limb is the violation of the right of the citizenry to free expression. Now, a situation where a person can be jailed for not less than 1 year of fined N2 million for sending, tweeting, posting, and saying obscene, annoying, false or inconvenient things through electronic communication means is nothing short of draconian. It returns us to the Orwellian milieu where the State as Big Brother knows, watches and monitors every thought and opinion we hold and propagate. Let it be known that free expression includes the right to hold and impart opinion and information whether true or false, decent or obscene, secular or religious etc without fear. And to add, a restriction of free expression stifles creativity and the thriving of democratic culture; as well as degrades human dignity and freedom. To be human is to be freely expressive; to hold and express personal worldview which must not always conform to others and the state. We will all lose our humanity and democracy when we are afraid to air our mind especially on the cyberspace which is a product of human creativity fertilized on the soil of free thought and ingenuity.
Finally, for want of space we’ll say that government cannot be trusted with unbridled access to peoples’ personal data and private communications on the wide and ambiguous grounds of national security. We know that since the days of Wikileaks and Snowden, citizens have become a lot more aware of the massive surveillance and invasion of privacy of net citizens; thus, we’ll stand up to any attempt to gag our internet freedom for whatever reason because if we give them a yard, they’ll go a mile!
- Elvis-Wura Towolawi.