Irked by the Federal Government’s recent move to monitor internet users in Nigeria through an Internet Surveillance scheme, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has enjoined Nigerians to rise up to the challenge of protecting their privacy against such unchecked surveillance in the cyberspace.
The group also joined a huge international coalition in calling upon Nigeria to assess whether national surveillance laws and activities are in line with their international human rights obligations.
The MRA has already endorsed a set of international principles against unchecked surveillance. The 13 Principles set out for the first time an evaluative framework for assessing surveillance practices in the context of international human rights obligations.
Meanwhile, a group of civil society organizations (CSOs) officially presented the 13 Principles penultimate Friday in Geneva at a side event attended by Ms. Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, Frank LaRue, during the 24th session of the Human Rights Council. The side event was hosted by the Permanent Missions of Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Hungary.
Edetaen Ojo, the Executive Director of MRA explained that his organisation endorsed the 13 principles which, according to him, are timely due to the fact they recognise that world governments need to recognise that monitoring what their citizens do on cyber space amounts to invasion of their privacy.
Mr. Ojo recalled that recently, the Federal Government of Nigeria awarded a $40 million Internet surveillance contract to Elbit Systems, an Israeli firm, to supply its Wise Intelligence Technology (WiT) system to Nigeria, ostensibly to spy on the nation’s internet users’ communication.
“In line with the principles against unchecked surveillance, monitoring and surveillance of citizens’ activities online pose a threat to Nigeria’s 47 million internet users”, he said.
He also added that in May this year, it was also revealed that Nigeria was among the 11 countries to have FinFisher surveillance software in its possession, noting that these moves by the Nigerian government in every way infringe on the right to privacy of individuals.
Lending credence to this in her opening remarks at 24th session of the Human Rights Council on September 9, Ms. Pillay, said laws and policies must be adopted to address the potential for dramatic intrusion on individuals’ privacy which have been made possible by modern communications technology.
According to her, “Technological advancements have been powerful tools for democracy by giving access to all to participate in society, but increasing use of data mining by intelligence agencies blurs lines between legitimate surveillance and arbitrary mass surveillance”.
Also speaking, Frank La Rue made succinct clarifications on a direct relationship between state surveillance, privacy and freedom of expression in the latest report to the Human Rights Council.
The right to privacy, he said, is often understood as an essential requirement for the realization of the right to freedom of expression. Undue interference with individuals’ privacy can both directly and indirectly limit the free development and exchange of ideas while an infringement upon one’s right can be both the cause and consequence of an infringement upon the other.
“Previously surveillance was carried out on targeted basis but the Internet has changed the context by providing the possibility for carrying out mass surveillance. This is the danger”, he further stated.
Representatives of MRA, Privacy International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, Association for Progressive Communications, and the Center for Democracy and Technology are all taking part in the event.