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Does Nigeria need to import the internet surveillance model being used in the west?

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Does Nigeria need to import the internet surveillance model being used in the west?

Alex Helling's picture
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While many western states are defending their record in cyber surveillance and some, such as the USA, are considering reigning in the intelligence agencies Nigeria seems to want to go much further than it does at the moment. Israel has sold internet surveillance equipment to the Nigerian government and is starting to install it. There is a team of Nigerian intelligence officers in training in Haifa to operate the system and workers from Elbit Systems in Abuja installing it.  

Minister of Information Labaran Maku justifies the system saying “most countries in the world […] monitor internet. There is no country in the world where communication is not monitored. There are issues of security involved, particularly in a country like Nigeria where we are having challenges of terror, […] where terror uses technology to destroy lives. […] That does not mean assault on the rights of citizens.” Snowden’s leaks have shown that this is true, and Nigeria certainly does have terrorism; it is almost certainly a better justification than in most western countries as Boko Haram and other extremists mount regular attacks – though how many of them are organised over the internet is open to question. Since Nigeria is in an comparatively open conflict with Boko Haram and other extremists there are likely to be better uses for the $40million price tag.

The Nigerian House of Representatives has called for a halt to the deal and started investigations but the government has ignored it. As it will take two years for the project to be completed it is possible the parliament might succeed in doing something. In the meantime the government seems intent on carrying on despite having mulled cancellation when the project first came to light – notably it was angry that Elbit had not been discreet enough showing it wanted to keep the project secret.

So what will the system do? Elbit says it will be “a highly advanced end-to-end solution, [to] supports every stage of the intelligence process, including the collection of the data from multiple sources, databases and sensors, processing of the information, supporting intelligence personnel in the analysis and evaluation of the information and disseminating the intelligence to the intended recipient” which sounds rather like everything we have been hearing about the NSA in miniature.

Nigeria was in May revealed to have products from FinFisher described as being able to “obtain passwords from a computer, monitor Skype calls, and even turn on a computer’s camera and sound recording.” This certainly sounds a proto-surveillance state. Members of Parliament have argued that it violates the privacy of Nigerians which is guaranteed in the constitution.

To make matters worse the Nigerian parliament seems to be intent on clamping down on any possibility of there being a Nigerian Edward Snowden. Legislation on cyber-crime currently working its way through parliament makes ‘tampering with protected computers’ meaning any government employee who “commits any act which he is not authorized to do” on a government computer commits an offence that could bring up to a three years jail term. At the same time ‘obtaining electronic messages’ under false pretences from the government is liable to imprisonment for two years.

Nonetheless the parliament has been responding to criticism with it being announced that “section 13 (3) shall be deleted” this section stipulated that “any person who intentionally propagate false information that could threaten the security of the country or that is capable of inciting the general public against the government through electronic message shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction, shall be sentenced to seven years imprisonment, or a fine of N5m, or both.” Considerably harsher than either other measure.

Nigeria is therefore hardly at the level of most authoritarian states, and with a parliament willing to take into account criticism could be said to be doing better than the UK where little is being done over an even bigger program. None the less it would be far better for a corrupt country such as Nigeria to embrace openness and transparency in all aspects of government. And if the government wants to use surveillance on it’s own people to get their backing first.

Debatabase debate ‘This House would ban the sale of surveillance technology to non-democratic countries’ http://digitalfreedoms.idebate.org/debatabase/debates/freespeechdebate/house-would-ban-sale-surveillance-technology-non-democratic-countries

http://freespeechdebate.com/en/2013/07/why-ramp-up-internet-surveillance-in-nigeria/

http://allafrica.com/stories/201311261178.html

http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2013/12/11/nigeria-gagging-critics-or-fighting-cyber-crime/

http://www.punchng.com/news/senate-reverses-decision-on-jail-term-for-online-critics/?utm_content=buffer7e338&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer

3 years 4 weeks ago
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