The Newspapers Proprietors' Association of Nigeria (NPAN) has asked the federal government to withdraw the bill seeking to empower security agencies to intercept and record electronic communications between individuals seize usage data from internet service providers and mobile networks.
According to NPAN, the bill is not only an "obnoxious" draft law which tends to invite arbitrariness to reign supreme in the country, but is also inimical to the citizens' rights to freedom of expression as enshrined in the constitution.
President Goodluck Jonathan had in January submitted a draft of the bill to the National Assembly.
The Cybercrime Bill, if eventually passed into law, will give government powers that to allow security personnel full access to personal emails, text messages, instant messages, voice mails and multimedia messages of citizens for the purpose of criminal investigation.
But in a communique issued last Thursday after its executive council meeting, NPAN said it viewed the draft law initiated by the federal government with great concern, while deliberating "on a range of issues affecting the industry and the nation."
Calling for the immediate withdrawal of the bill from the National Assembly, the communique signed by President of the association, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena noted: "That this bill is a dangerous potent to the constitutional guarantee of free speech and is therefore an invitation to arbitrariness.
"That the federal government should withdraw this obnoxious bill in line with its constitutional obligation to protect the rights and liberties of the citizens."
The said bill, after it has become law, will give security agencies the constitutional backing to compel telecommunication companies to conduct surveillance on individuals, as well as make user data available to authorities.
There will be no need for a warrant in cases of "verifiable urgency" to intercept and record electronic communications under the new bill, but in the case where urgency is involved, an ex parte order of a court is required before a law enforcement officer conducts a cybercrime investigation.
A subheading titled 'interception of electronic communications' under section 22 of the bill stipulates that "where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the content of any electronic communication is reasonably required for the purposes of a criminal investigation or proceedings, a judge may on the basis of information on oath:
"(a) order a service provider, through the application of technical means to collect, record, permit or assist competent authorities with the collection or recording of content data associated with specified communications transmitted by means of a computer system; or " (b) authorise a law enforcement officer to collect or record such data through application of technical means."
The bill further specifies "electronic communication" that could be intercepted as follows: "Communication in electronic format, instant messages, short message service (SMS), e-mail, video, voice mails, multimedia message service (MMS), fax and pager."
Instant messaging is a type of chat which offers real-time text, video and audio transmission over the internet. It includes Blackberry Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Google Hangout, Yahoo Messenger, Facebook Messenger, 2go and others.
According to the bill, interception provides "listening to or recording of communication data of a computer or acquiring the substance, meaning or purport of such and any acts capable of blocking or preventing any of these functions."
Section 21 of the bill went on to state that security agencies can order internet service providers or telecom companies to "preserve, hold or retain any traffic data, subscriber information or related content".
A situation where a service provider turn down the demand to release its subscriber data requested by the security agencies, the firm would be liable to N10million fine, just as each of its directors, managers or officers shall be liable for three years jail term, N7 million fine or both.
Other areas covered by the bill include transmitting false electronic messages, child pornography, paedophilia and cyber-terrorism.
Section 15 (1) provides for a jail term of not less than one year or a fine of N2 million for "any person who, by means of a public electronic communications network persistently sends a message or other matter that (a) is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character or causes any such message or matter to be so sent; or (b) he knows to be false, the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another or cause."
The bill further prescribes death sentence to a person who commits crime against Critical National Information Infrastructure, which is defined as "certain computer systems, networks and information infrastructure vital to the national security of Nigeria or the economy and social wellbeing of its citizens."
But if the offence does not result in death but leads to "grievous bodily injury", the culprit shall be liable to imprisonment for a minimum term of 15 years.
A life imprisonment also awaits "any person that accesses or causes to be accessed any computer or computer system or network for purposes of terrorism." The bill says "terrorism" shall have the same meaning under Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011, as amended.