Concerned about the potential of the federal government's proposed cybercrime law to stifle free speech, the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) has asked President Goodluck Jonathan to withdraw the bill which is now before the two chambers of the National Assembly without further delay.
In a communiqué dated February 6, 2014, which was issued by NPAN and signed by its president, Mr Nduka Obaigbena, the association noted with concern that the bill grants security agencies powers to spy on electronic communications between individuals and track data use from Internet service providers and mobile networks.
"NPAN views with serious concern the report that the federal government has initiated a draft law that empowers security agents to intercept and record electronic communications between individuals and track data use from Internet service providers and mobile network," it said. "This bill is a dangerous potent to the constitutional guarantee of free speech and is therefore an invitation of arbitrariness."
NPAN stated that "the federal government should withdraw this obnoxious bill in line with its constitutional obligation to protect the rights and liberties of its citizens".
Entitled "Cybercrime Bill, 2013", the proposed law was sent to the National Assembly two weeks ago.
In section 22, the bill states: "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.
"Electronic communication" here covers all 'communication in electronic format, instant messages, short message service (SMS), e-mail, video, voice mails, multimedia message service (MMS), fax and pager.'
"Interception" in the context of the bill includes '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'."
In section 21, the bill proposes that security agencies can order internet service providers or telecom companies to "preserve, hold or retain any traffic data, subscriber information or related content".
Where a service provider refuses to release its subscriber data requested by the security agencies, the firm is liable to N10million fine, while each of its directors, managers or officers shall be liable for three years' jail term, N7 million fine or both.
Also the bill addresses others aspects of cybercrime including transmitting false electronic messages, child pornography, paedophilia and cyber-terrorism.