Nigerians may soon have their fixed and mobile phones and electronic mails monitored on behalf of the federal government as the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is set to award contract for the surveillance and intelligence gathering activities which may impact on the privacy of the citizens.
NCC has already invited tenders from reputable firms with proven experience to undertake consultancy for the award of 25 consultancy contracts in line with the Public Procurement Act 2007. Few months ago, NCC came out with a draft policy on Lawful Interception which is meant to monitor telephony communications such as phone calls, short message services (SMS) and chat messages.
Other consultant contracts which NCC will be awarding include: Review of the Readiness of Social Media Networks and its Implications for Telecommunications Regulation and National Security; Development of a Technical Framework for Data Filtering in Telecommunications Networks; and Development of a Technical Framework for the Use of Social Media Networks.
Others are: Electronic Archiving of Documents; Upgrade and Comprehensive Maintenance of Site to Site VPN Solution; Implementation of Visitors Management System (VMS); Localised Investigation into the Electromagnetic (EM) Emission from telecommunications radiators associated with masts, towers and terminal devices and study to quantify the value and compliance levels in the use of 2.45GHz and 5.8GHz centre frequencies of the ISM Band in the Nigerian market.
According to Mr Tony Ojobo, director, public affairs of NCC, "The technical and financial proposals shall be submitted in a sealed envelope.
Ojobo added that "The document should be dropped in the bid box located at the reception of the Commission's Head office.
Mr Lanre Ajayi, president, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (Atcon) had during a forum for the review of lawful interception organised by the Joint Action Committee for Information Technology Awareness and Development (Jacitad) revealed that Nigerian telecommunications companies were already using the technology on their networks.
He listed a Netherlands company, Digivox as key supplier of interception technology tools to the Nigerian government and telecommunication operators which Nigeria's State Security Service (SSS), MTN, Airtel, Etisalat and Glo among its business partners. On Digivox website (www.digivox.nl), its reference, "Since 1990 Digivox has supplied various security applications and systems for major telecom operators and internet service providers as well as law enforcement and intelligence agencies in over 15 countries worldwide."
The Lawful Interception has been opposed on the ground that it did not have legal status. NCC came up in February with the draft policy which empowers government security agencies to tap the communications of citizens. Experts say for lawful interception to be successful, it has to be backed by law.
Recently the federal government met with a backlash as it was revealed that it had awarded an Israeli company about $40 million contract to provide technology tool and software to monitor emails of Nigerians online.
Mr Gbenga Adebayo, chairman, Association of Licenced Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (Alton) noted that "By virtue of NCC Act 2003, operators are under obligation to implement technical capabilities for lawful interception." He however said there was no law protecting the operators from attacks in the performance of their duty while helping government agencies.
"It is worrisome, that where operators have provided some information to security agencies, the law enforcement and security agencies have said 'operators gave us information; operators gave us call data records'. This has often led to attacks of operators' facilities. It is critical that the National Assembly provides legislative backing on lawful interception", he stated.