• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Operators, consumers decry Govt planned tapping of telephone services


The Federal Government’s plan to intercept telephony services expected to curb the spate of insecurity currently ravaging the nation, has been decried by both operators and concerned citizens. They say any form of interception should be backed by appropriate legislation rather than mere regulation.

In February, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had developed a draft policy, which empowers government security agencies to tap the communications of citizens. The telecoms regulator, according to industry experts, would urgently need to review the draft policy on Lawful Interception, meant to monitor telephony communications such as phone calls, short message services (SMS) and chat messages, in order to suit the peculiarities of Nigeria.

Lawful Interception should be by legislation and not by regulation as it is currently, Nasir el-Rufia, former minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) said at a one-day Review of the Draft Policy of Lawful Interception, organised by Joint Action on ICT Awareness and Development (JACITAD), a body of technology media practitioners.

“Lawful interception is necessary but in the mould of Electronic Privacy Act as it is done in other countries. You must get a warrant from a judge before your communications is monitored. We should never allow any law or regulation to give government a blank cheque to monitor citizens’ emails, phone calls, SMS without probable cause.”

“What is wrong with the government going to the National Assembly, saying we have a problem, we need a solution. We should never

allow a police commissioner eavesdrop on your conversation without probable cause and legal backing,” he said.

He added that what government is planning has never been done by regulation alone in any part of the world.

Speaking in the same vein, Femi Adeshina, president, Nigerian Guild of Editors, said under Lawful Interception, communication can be intercepted by law enforcement agencies, regulatory or administrative agencies, intelligence services in accordance with the law.

“Most countries of the world have lawful interception requirements. There are usually concerns of LI. If we have such in Nigeria it is only natural.”

Lending his view from an operator’s perspective, Osondu Nwokoro, director, regulator affairs, Airtel Nigeria, said in other climes, lawful interception is pushed through legislation.

“In Uganda, South Africa and other countries, they have Electronic Communications Acts. It is by legislation, why don’t we follow the best practices and international standards?” He said operators worry that the warrant is broadly written.

“We have some concerns because that may not protect us really. Operators are not fully protected as the LI is right now, because we can be sued by subscribers for unlawful exposure of their private communication. We are also saying that it is not a good thing that the log information is kept with the NCC.

“We need to insulate the NCC from political pressure. We think such information should be kept with a chief judge. The organ of government that seems to have a semblance of independence is the judiciary, why don’t we keep the information with the judiciary? Another thing is that the LI cost will be borne end-to-end by the operators. It should not be so. Operators are insulated from criminal liability but not from civil liability. We need to balance the interest of the citizens, operators and the government,” Nwokoro added.

Deolu Ogunbanjo, President, National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMs), takes an exception with Page 12 of the policy under secrecy. “We looked at it and saw that the draft lawful interception does not provide for confidentiality agreement for non-disclosure of the secrets. It also does not prescribe any penalty for breach of the provisions.”

Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, Gbenga Sesan said “one of the problems without the appropriate law is soon you will get people being shot. Where we are coming from, a military era is a context that scares me. The National Assembly is yet to legislate on the Data Privacy Protection Bill. With LI internet freedom will not be protected. We need to put our search light on this issue.”