Stakeholders oppose NCC’s lawful interception regulation
Stakeholders in the telecom industry have risen up against Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC’s) Draft Lawful Interception of Communications Regulation, describing it as an ill wind that will blow no man any good.
In February this year, the regulator came up with the Draft Lawful Interception of Communications Regulation, which provides the legal and regulatory framework for the lawful interception of communications in Nigeria, and to put into effect the provisions of Section 70 of the Nigerian Communications Act.
“These regulations are made to provide a legal and regulatory framework for the lawful interception of communications in Nigeria, the collection and disclosure of intercepted communications. These regulations shall; provide the legal and regulatory framework for the lawful interception of communications in Nigeria and to put into effect the provisions of sections 146 and 147 of the Act; specify the nature and types of communications to be intercepted; prescribe penalties for non-compliance with these regulations; provide a notification procedure to the commission of all warrants issued, amended renewed or cancelled under these regulations; ensure the privacy of subscribers as contained in the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria is preserved.”
First to speak on the issue was controversial but cerebral Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, one time minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was guest speaker at a forum organised by the Joint Action Committee on Information and Communications Technology Awareness and Development (JACITAD) in Lagos.
He did not conceal his aversion to the move, which, he said, will threaten the privacy of the citizens and usher in an era of witch-hunting.
He took a swipe at the proposed regulation and concluded that the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 which gave birth to the NCC, did not give it powers to engage in intercepting the communications of citizens.
According to Rufai, an issue as important as that which seeks to infringe on the fundamental rights of the citizens should not be left to the whims and caprices of government officials but must be submitted as a bill, to the National Assembly for passage into law. He argued that doing so will allow the representatives of the people to debate it properly before passing it into law.
He took particular exception to the regulation that sought to allow interception of communication first, before applying for a warrant after 48 hours, arguing that every need for interception must first pass through the blue litmus test of a warrant issued by a high court in the country.
“We must insist that in every case of interception, there must be a warrant from a judge. We must never allow any law that gives public officers a blank cheque. The invasion of the privacy of citizens is too serious to be left to regulation. It must be by legislation,” he insisted.
Deputy Managing Director/Deputy Editor-in-Chief, The Sun Newspaper and President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Femi Adesina, said the concerns of the citizens were not out of place.
He said some of these concerns include fear that “Blackberry services could be at risk in the country as the regulation will run counter to the technical operating standards of the phones’ distinct network. It maintains a strict policy of non-disclosure of pass codes or key, sent over an encrypted network. And there are over three million Blackberry users in Nigeria.
“When security agencies intercept vital communication, how safe are subscribers from unscrupulous ones among them, who may end up trading with information at their disposal? Will this not even encourage identity theft?”
According to him, conversations will no longer be spontaneous, ‘as you will have the sneaky feeling that Big Brother is listening,’ adding that ‘government may use the regulation to crack down on opposition figures.’
The President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Lanre Ajayi, however said lawful interception of communication should be encouraged because of the need to strengthen national security. He wants the issue to be addressed legally, adding that the Federal Government should bear the cost of such interception.
In his contribution, the Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said the operators are worried that what the NCC is seeking to do is unknown to law. According to him, the move of the NCC also failed to take cognisance of the interest of the operators as well as that of the citizens.
Adebayo recalled that the operators’ facilities have come under attack because they were perceived as giving information to law enforcement agents, wondering why the regulator should impose responsibilities on parties that do not come under its jurisdiction.
The Director, Regulatory Affairs, Airtel, Osondu Nwokoro, said the regulator should take its hands off the issue of interception as the issue will take away its insulation from politics. According to him, there is need to jealously guard against the erosion of the gains of the telecoms revolution.
Osondu raised concerns that the issue is broad and generic and not specific, arguing that the operators are not protected because there is no equity. He added that the cost of carrying out the interception would be borne by the operators, which according to him, is not good enough.
He said it is not good for the regulator to keep the record of the log because it not going to insulate the regulator from political interference, suggesting that such a document should be kept with the judge.
“We are not comfortable that we will be required to do the interception. A commission should do that. operators will incur cost in doing so. We feel it should not be so,” he said.
Source: BizTech Africa