Nigeria: CBN Can Collect Customers' Social Media Handles, Court Rules

Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court in Lagos has held that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is constitutionally empowered to demand and collect the social media handles of their customers as part of the standard Know-Your-Customer procedure, saying it is not a breach of the right to privacy.

Justice Dimgba made the declaration while ruling on a suit filed by a Lagos-based lawyer, Chris Eke, seeking an order stopping the apex bank from demanding bank customers' social media handles.

Eke had prayed the court to declare that the regulation as contained in Section 6(a)(iv) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (Customer Due Diligence) Regulations, 2023, is undemocratic, unconstitutional, null and void to the extent of its inconsistency with Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

The lawyer had also prayed the court to grant an order of perpetual injunction restraining CBN from enforcing the regulation, which requires financial institutions to request customers' social media handles as part of average bank customer due diligence requirements.

But the CBN, in its response to the suit, filed a notice of preliminary objection, challenging the competence of the suit and also argued that the said regulation did not interfere with the applicant's private life, as claimed.

In his judgment, Justice Dimgba held that CBN's preliminary objection had merit, and he subsequently struck out the suit.

The judge further held that a social media handle is the same as providing email addresses, phone numbers and other means by which potential customers can be contacted.

He maintained that it is part of due diligence to determine if the person is a fit and proper person for the bank to do business with, and as such, this regulation does not infringe on the right to privacy.

The judge also held that the essence of having a social media account was to be publicly visible communication-wise; it would be highly unreasonable to hold the CBN in breach of privacy.

The court held, "First, the Applicant claims that the requirements on the CBN Regulations for financial institutions to request and collect the social media handle of its customers as part of KYC infringes on his right to privacy.

"This claim is very ambitious and amounts to a very far throw. The said Regulations are directed to and apply to financial institutions. It does not apply to private individuals such as the Applicant.

"Even if, as appears to be argued, that the Regulations itself would inevitably affect the Applicant, this claim is speculative for the simple reason that in nowhere in the affidavit in support was it stated that the Applicant operates an account with a financial institution and that the said institution had demanded his social media handle. So the suggestion that he would be affected by this Regulation, albeit negatively, is very speculative and at large.

"Second, there is also no deposition that any financial institution had begun to implement this Regulation and that its implementation had begun to create disruptions and inconvenience against the general population, in which case one could infer that the suit should be legitimated as a public interest litigation.

"Third, assuming even that the banks had begun to implement this regulation, the Applicant assuming he maintained any bank accounts or sought to open one, but is being hindered or irritated by the requirement of the Regulation to avail his social media handle as part of KYC, the Applicant still had a choice, which is to refuse to do business with any bank insisting on the information as part of its social media handle but to seek other alternatives.

"Fourth, and for all it is worth, I do not see how asking a banking or potential banking customer to provide his social media handle can ever amount to a breach of privacy.

"Granted that Section 37 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides, among other things: "The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is at this moment guaranteed and protected.

"My view is that a social media handle is of the same genre as providing email addresses, phone numbers and other means by which a potential bank customer can be contacted.

"Thus, it is clear from the face of the Regulations as set out above that email addresses, phone numbers and social media handles are all provided for under clause 6iv just to show that the aim was not to pry on anyone but rather to provide alternative ways by which a customer of the bank can be contacted and or due diligence conducted on the person to determine if the person is a fit and proper person to extend banking services to.

"I do not see how this infringes on the right to privacy. I should even say that the essence of having a social media account was to be publicly visible communication-wise. It, therefore, appears quite ironic, though wryly, that one can suggest that asking for information about a social media handle with which the individual exposes and immerses himself in public can amount to a violation of privacy rights, which rights itself is all about the isolation of one from public glare.

"It is also to my knowledge that even in filling some business applications, personal information of this sort is sometimes requested, and parties generally oblige. If it does not constitute a breach of privacy, why should it now?

"A social media handle is left at large for the world to see, being in the public space, everyone enjoys the liberty to have access to it whether or not consent was obtained. It would be highly unreasonable to hold the Respondent in breach of privacy for what other persons can access.

"The applicant's apprehension of his social interactions being monitored is manifestly speculative and somewhat incredulous to believe that the financial institutions have the luxury of time to concern themselves with such frivolities.

"On the whole, if I did not sustain the preliminary objection, I would have dismissed the suit for the reasons stated. But the preliminary objection having been sustained, the suit is, therefore, at this moment, struck out.

"I make no order as to costs," the judge held.

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