Daily Trust (Abuja)

18 November 2013

Nigeria: Is 'Wire-Tap' Law Meant to Stifle Free Speech or Fight Cybercrimes?

Baba Jibrin Adamu, the Senior Adviser to the President on Information and Communication Technology, said the government is hell-bent on curtailing the activities of criminals who have found a safe haven in ICT.

Adamu, who spoke in Abuja last week at the 2nd annual conference on outsourcing, said government is ridding the country of those who use either the telephone or internet to commit crimes because "investors would not invest in a place where their investment are not safe and we are assuring everyone that we are working to make online transactions safe in the country."

The federal government is coming up with wire -tap programme that will allow security agencies monitor and track conversations on telephone and the internet.

The bill for the programme had passed the second reading at both lower and upper chamber of the National Assembly.

In simple terms, phone and internet communications made by Nigerians daily will be open to government monitoring and when necessary, interception.

If passed into law, it will allow law enforcement agents tap into communications and will also outlaw unauthorised interception of internet and phone communications.

The proposal is titled 'A Bill for An Act to Provide for the Interception, Development And Protection of Communications Networks and Facilities For Public Interest And Other Related Matters, 2013"

Speaking in support of the bill, Rep.Uzoma Abonta (PDP- Abia), said that the importance of security could not be overemphasised.

He urged the House to pass the bill into second reading for the benefit of Nigerians..

But not everybody would agree with Adamu and Abonta. Some believe that the move by the FG to monitor phone calls and online communications in Nigeria may be another political tool aimed at stifling free speech.

Those with this opinion said politicians often (mis)use any state apparatus or regulation to fight their opponents or those who are not in their good book.

Example, they said, is a financial crime agency which was initially set up to fight financial crimes and other corrupt practices but which is now being used to "attack opponents of government."

A telecom engineer, who pleaded anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue said the fears in the ICT is that the wire-tap programme may be abused.

He admitted that even in the so called developed economies, their governments do monitor communications to ward off any external or internal aggression, but "you know Nigeria; everything is abused by our politicians."

Recently, Apple joined the likes of Facebook and Google by releasing figures showing how many times governments around the world have requested personal information about its customers.

It said from January to June this year there were almost 3,000 data requests made from 31 countries - with the U.S and UK topping the list. Nigeria was not on the list.

Apple said the most common requests related to 'robberies and other crimes', requests from law enforcement agencies searching for missing people or hoping to prevent a suicide, and data about the owners of lost or stolen phones.

According to the report, responding to an account request usually involved providing information about an account holder's iTunes or iCloud account, such as a name and address.

Apple said in very rare cases it was asked to provide stored photos or email and considered each request on a case-by-case basis.

When the 'wire-tap' law comes into effect here, will the government use it to gag the opposition or to choke the yahoo-yahoo boys.?

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