The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to use “his good offices and leadership position to urgently review and rescind his reported approval for security agencies to access people’s personal details via National Identification Number (NIN)-Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) linkage without due process of law.”
SERAP also urged President Buhari to send executive bills to the National Assembly to repeal and reform all laws, which are inconsistent and incompatible with Nigerians’ rights to privacy, dignity and liberty.
The Guardian had exclusively reported last week that one year after the NIN-SIM policy came into force, the spate of insecurity and fraud had festered, to which the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Mr. Isa Pantami, had lamented that no security operative sought permission to access the NIN-SIM database or any other information in an effort to rescue a kidnapped victim, despite a blanket approval subsisting for security operatives.
Pantami had told The Guardian in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on the sidelines of the LEAP 2022 technology and exhibition conference, that some of the security institutions, based on Cybercrime law, are allowed to have access to the database without coming to the ministry or telecoms operators because that database allows for Lawful Intercept.
According to him, that Lawful Intercept was allowed to support Nigeria’s security agents. “President Buhari has approved for them to do it without even our intervention as a ministry. So, with that approval, NCC has conveyed through my office to all relevant institutions that Mr. President has granted approval for that. So, with it, they can get databases even without our permission. But since then, they (security agents) have never complained or come to me even once to demand information from the database.”
However, in the letter dated February 5, 2022, released yesterday and signed by SERAP’s deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “If your reported approval is not rescinded, millions of law-abiding Nigerians may feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance.”
SERAP’s letter followed reports that some security agencies have received presidential approval to access people’s personal details via the database of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) in the course of carrying out their duties.
According to SERAP, the reported approval to allow security agencies to access people’s personal details via NIN-SIM linkage without due process of law directly interferes with the privacy, dignity and liberty of individuals.
SERAP said: “The interference entailed by unlawfully or arbitrarily accessing people’s personal details, is far-reaching and must be considered to be particularly serious. Interference with an individual’s right to privacy is not permissible if it is unlawful or arbitrary.”
The letter copied to Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) and Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Pantami, reads in part: “The power to access individual’s details raises serious concerns as to their arbitrary use by the authorities responsible for applying them in a manner that reduces human rights and democratic principles by the monitoring and surveillance of millions of Nigerians.
“It is crucial to rescind the approval, and respect the autonomy of individuals to receive and share information of a personal nature without interference from the authorities, if unintended adverse consequences are to be avoided.
“The risk of arbitrary or abusive interference shows the importance for your government to comply fully with the requirements of legality, necessity and proportionality.
“The right to privacy allows Nigerians to hold opinions and exercise freedom of expression without arbitrary or illegal interference and attacks.
“Violations or abuses of the right to privacy might affect the enjoyment of other human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and to hold opinions without interference. In the digital age, protecting the right to privacy requires exceptional attention.
“The undermining of the universality of fundamental human rights, alongside the potential encroachment upon the enjoyment of the right to privacy raised by the presidential approval, suggests the urgent need to review the matter, and rescind your approval, consistent with constitutional and international standards.”
MEANWHILE, NIMC has informed that its NIN Verification Service (NVS) is temporarily unavailable due to maintenance service being carried out by one of the commission’s network service providers. It, however, assured the public that verification and authentication services would be restored once the maintenance is concluded.
The implication of this is that enrollees can continue to register for NINs at designated centres, but would need to wait a while (days) before they are verified and confirmed from NIMC.
The commission was silent about the time the maintenance would be completed, but in a notice, made available to journalists, yesterday, by the Head of Corporate Communications, NIMC, Kayode Adegoke, the commission apologised for any inconveniences the maintenance may cause customers, “as all hands are on deck to ensure speedy restoration.”
NIMC, however, said the public can make use of the alternative tokenisation verification platform. It said would-be subscribers can generate a virtual NIN by dialing *346*3*NIN*ENTERPRISE-ID# using one’s mobile number or through NIMC mobile app, which can be downloaded from Google Play or App Store. This is even as the March 31, 2022 NIN-SIM deadline remains.
The persistence challenges of server downtime and power outage have denied many Nigerians the opportunity to register for their NIN or link their SIM to the platform, as only over 73 million Nigerians have been captured.
The major challenges confronting the process, as observed in the registration centres in Lagos and Ogun states, are: frequent server downtime and power outage, which many people said have frustrated them after several attempts.