Senate backs controversial internet, phone spy programme

Nigerian governemnet has joined the long list of governments spying its citizens online. Photo: Bello Isiaka via Facebook
Nigerian governemnet has joined the long list of governments spying its citizens online. Photo: Bello Isiaka via Facebook

The bill will provide a legal footing for the federal government’s internet and phone spy program.

The Nigerian Senate, Wednesday, brushed aside public discontent with a secret federal internet and phone spy program, and gave an early approval to a legislation seeking to empower authorities to intercept electronic communications between, and from Nigerians.

On their second legislative day from a two-month break, senators voted in support of a second reading for A Bill for An Act to Provide for the Interception, Development And Protection of Communications Networks and Facilities For Public Interest And Other Related Matters, 2013.

If given a third reading eventually, approved by the House of Representatives, and signed into law by the president, law enforcement agencies will have the powers to monitor and seize Internet and phone data-including emails, text messages, phone records and more- from several millions of Nigerians, a privilege many Nigerians fear will be abused.

The law will be used in tackling terrorism, and ensuring that electronic communication from Nigerians are safe, the bill’s sponsor, Isa Galaudu, Kebbi North, said.

It will also criminalize interceptions by unauthorized persons, and will ensure the confidentiality of electronic communications.

“Consequently, the bill intends to provide for certain instances where lawful interception of communications data by law enforcement agencies shall be allowed while at the same time ensuring that privacy and confidentiality of communications of citizens is maintained,” Mr Galaudu said.

He said the plan will allow law enforcement agents block loopholes in the current laws that provide for no monitoring of or protection against such communication.

“Regrettably, the advancement of technology and the convergence of communication system have created a problem which aids terrorists and criminals to always keep a step ahead of the law in their nefarious activities,” he said.

“In most cases, these communications may be the only source for proving that individuals have been involved in such criminality and activities that threaten national security.”

The bill came months after PREMIUM TIMES uncovered the federal government’s secret $40 million contract to an Israeli technology firm, which will provide the technical infrastructure and the skill to snoop on the digital activities of Nigerians.

The clandestine programme, awarded to Elbit Systems, with headquarters in Haifa, will allow the government spy on citizens’ computers and Internet communications and emails under the guise of intelligence gathering and national security.

The project became public knowledge after PREMIUM TIMES worked out a veiled announcement of the contract in which Elbit acknowledged securing the multimillion dollar project with an African country whose identity it refused to mention.

The company got the contract without any competitive bidding as required by federal laws, triggering a House of Representatives resolution to investigate the deal. The House said in June the deal violated the Fiscal Responsibility law.

Makinde Olarotimi, the deputy chairman of the House Human Rights committee, one of the three committees mandated to probe details of the contract, told PREMIUM TIMES late July that the delay in the commencement of the investigation was due to the House’s attention on constitution amendment and the passage of the 2013 budget amendment.
He said the matter remained key to the House, and that it will be addressed once members reconvene in September.

“The motion came close to when we were going on recess; we had the constitution review and the budget which we considered as priorities. I’m assuring you that when we resume we are going to do justice to it for the good of all Nigerians,” Mr Olarotimi said then.

The government initially considered terminating the contract after Elbit’s discreet announcement, accusing the company of breaching confidentiality agreement as evidenced in the PREMIUM TIMES’ report.

It is not clear though whether the Senate proposal was directly anchored on the Elbit contract. But the bill, first read June 6, 2012, will undoubtedly provide the needed legal basis for such programmes.

Amongst other things, the law, when effective, will provide for protection of communication against abuse, prohibit unauthorized interception except for public interest, ban manufacturing, assembling, processing, and selling of equipment used illegally as interception devices.

Coming at a time of international fury over the United States’ embarrassingly extensive secret internet and phone spy programme, leaked by former CIA contractor, Edward Snowden, senators expressed concerns the new law, though aimed at tackling terrorism, might be seriously abused.

Atai Aidoki Ali, a senator from Kogi state, said the bill might allow government witch-hunt opposition without a court order. He said the bill is “ambiguous”.

But Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said the government has to deploy unusual methods at an unusual time, to protect the people.

“The security and protection of our citizens is paramount; this is the major aspect of the bill,” he said. “It is also important to stop people using devices to intercept people’s calls. I think with this bill, punishment will be prescribed for those who intercept calls illegally.”

  • Mike

    This is the Nigerian version of the spying programme of the NSA in the United States called PRISM

  • ashibogu

    It will be abused no doubt. I sorry for Nigeria!

  • The Vulture – King of Offals

    The problem is not the program itself – every country does it. The difference is – they do it with their NATIONALS and not FOREIGNERS.

    NIGERIA has gone to seek the services of a FOREIGN COMPANY to do this. What any sensible Government would have done is shortlist about 3 NIGERIA based IT COMPANIES with NIGERIANS in strategic positions to work on a “TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER” basis with the ISRAELI based company.

    How come – we do not SHOP for a FOREIGNER to be OUR PRESIDENT?

    We are just a DUMB SET OF PEOPLE!

    • Sam

      U’ve echoed my exact thoughts. Its a pity we are bin lead by a bunch of crackheads and plenty know nothings. They are only intent on ruining this country.

      • Daniel

        Please apply for citizenship else where, because if you are a true patriot, you should hail this decision.

        I do not think Nigerians are that stupid as not to have an idea of what this programme is about. Please the fact that we are poor does not mean we have no intelligent people amongst us.And we have to be realistic. We have limited human resources and infrastructure for the project,so for now we need to outsource expertrates for the programme, just as we do with our space programmes. However there should be a local content plan so that in the future Nigerians can fully be in charge of it.

        As for those who do not support the programme at all,I would say their patriotism,if it true, should be guided by the present security realities in our country. Terrorists use high tech equipment to carry out their dastardly acts: the use the Internet, remote detonation devices, Turaya mobile phones and the likes. So our intel has to be a step ahead of them.

        For those who fear official abuse therefore it should cancelled, I would say they should push for a legislation to clearly define what constitutes right to privacy and national security obligations, so that people can go to court if their rights are violated. This is a democracy where superior ideas rule!

    • olanrewaju

      excuse me, dt Elbits is building the project doesnt mean d system will be operated by them. it’s a project thet will be built in Nigeria used by Nigerian security forces.

      • The Vulture – King of Offals

        Sir – I am not sure what you background is – but generally, software has two parts – binaries or/and executable and source code.

        The executable is what is generally INSTALLED on computers and the actual logic or code is obfuscated. So, basically – you are only exposed to using it rather than how it was built.

        My advocacy is a synergy solution whereby NIGERIANS are exposed to the source CODE as well as the WORK FLOW as opposed to running the executable or binaries alone.

        The point is – this resolves around NATIONAL SECURITY, there is nothing stopping the ISRAELI company placing an EASTER EGG or a TROJAN HORSE in the solution provided if ONLY they are giving us binaries.

        Bottom Line – there is an URGENT NEED for NIGERIANS to be involved with REVIEWING the SOURCE CODE and be CHARGED with the actual COMPILATION of the SOURCE CODE. My apologies if I am going too deep – this is an area I am passionate about .

        It is too dangerous an adventure to trust issues of NATIONAL SECURITY to NON NIGERIANS.

        • Daniel

          I do not think Nigerians are that stupid as not to have an idea of what this programme is about. Please the fact that we are poor does not mean we have no intelligent people amongst us.And we have to be realistic. We have limited human resources and infrastructure for the project,so for now we need to outsource expertrates for the programme, just as we do with our space programmes. However there should be a local content plan so that in the future Nigerians can fully be in charge of it.

          As for those who do not support the programme at all,I would say their patriotism,if it true, should be guided by the present security realities in our country. Terrorists use high tech equipment to carry out their dastardly acts: the use the Internet, remote detonation devices, Turaya mobile phones and the likes. So our intel has to be a step ahead of them.

          For those who fear official abuse therefore it should cancelled, I would say they should push for a legislation to clearly define what constitutes right to privacy and national security obligations, so that people can go to court if their rights are violated.

      • Kay Soyemi (Esq.)

        Olanrewaju, I am afraid the gentleman – who for some silly reason wishes to be known as The Vulture – is very right.

        This is ALL to do with national security and I daresay, Nigeria cannot be short of the required brain power to achieve this.

  • Sanusi A Yaradua

    There isn’t any assembly of irresponsible gentlemen in the whole world like that of Nigerian Senate. It always awaits a bill sponsored by the executive because it is conveyed with cash and oil allocation. Why Nigerians should be spied on telephones and other communication utilities? Why the senate is always thinking of what to do to please the executive even if that thing may not be good to Nigerians? Look at decentralization of salary structure. Why Nigerian senate cannot pay attention to many important things like ASUU and COESUU strikes rather than wasting time on useless bills.

    • Tualey

      Bastard! Are you scared that all your terrorist activities will be detected? Av always known you to be a Boko Haram Kingpin and bet me, you will surely be found and slaughtered the way your founder Mohammed was killed. No matter what you u say or post, GEJ will rule beyond 2015 and nothing will happen. Instead, you and your likes of Buhari and atiku will surely be eliminated, mark my word!..

  • Ubong

    Its about the New World Order. The Big Brother watching all the sheeple! The Executive will sign this bill speedily because they must push the Globalists Agenda of watching and controlling the masses!!

  • Horrison

    This is an area that requires caution. The NASS should reconsider their support for snooping within a broader security and citizen’s rights definition and not just as a knee jerk reaction to insurgency. No doubt there are benefits that could impact national security but there are also downsides on privacy and abuse of such powers against ordinary Nigerians especially in the Nigerian environment where we do not have a people’s constitution; where elections are still very flawed; where democratic institutions and support structures are very weak and where people with political authority entrusted operate as kings, royalties and celebrities to be served and worshiped by the rest of us instead of the other way round. .

    I believe that most of our security problems currently are internal and are largely developmental – human, economic, socio-cultural, legal, the place of religion in society, etc. We should consider a more expanded approach to national security definitions and strategy, incorporating the 3Ds of Development, Diplomacy and Defense. To deliver on these requires strengthening institutions and improving governance. We may be missing a great opportunity to reorder Nigeria if we just focus on the easier to do things such as snooping.

    We currently have weak physical and virtual borders which are subject to abuse and if we do not have a robust intelligence programme integrated into overall development strategy, we may further increase the powers of leadership which may be misused and abused. A few things that Nigeria needs to do very quickly in terms of unfettered information and communication flow and intelligence gathering characteristic of free and liberal society to include:

    1. Make the NTA independent of government in funding and programming – the BBC model
    2. Do away with the Ministry of Information at Federal and States levels – no need now with FOI
    3. Pursue aggressively a Human Development Agenda – small government, many delivery units
    4. Motivate and inspire Nigerians to love fellow Nigerians and Nigeria for us all to protect

  • Dr Pat Kolawole Awosan

    President Ebele Jonathan is a known deeply corrupt,clueless,ineptitude,visionless and non-performing president of Nigeria that can not point out any tangible achievement in security,power,roads,healthcare and employment generation scheme sectors.
    Hence,president Jonathan resorts to misappropriation of S40 million dollaras contract to an Istraeli company in order to spy on Nigerians phones and internet conversations and communications.
    Nigeria senators will be doing themselves a great diservice and evil to pass such anti-people freedom of expression and curtailing Nigerians fundamental right.