Nigerians have reacted with outrage after the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) said in a new report that it will collect the identification numbers of their phones.
The IMEI number allows phones to be tracked and monitored, and allows access to sensitive data of users.
The NCC said President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the compilation of IMEIs for all registered mobile phones before the end of July.
The disclosure was made in the NCC’s Revised National Policy for Sim Card Registration, released this week.
The policy said the “implementation of a Centralized Equipment Identity and Register (CEIR), otherwise known as Device Management System (DMS) will serve as a repository for keeping records of all registered mobile phones’ International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) and owners of such devices.”
It said the “IMEIs that have been reported as either stolen or illegal; will be shared through the DMS to all the operators and service providers. The purpose is to ensure that such devices do not work even if different SIM Cards are inserted in those devices”.
“Accordingly, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, has directed that the Device Management System should be implemented within three months,” it added.
The IMEI can be submitted to the telecommunication agency and the agency obtain the digits via IPS of the phone without contacting the user.
Coming after the government made it mandatory for citizens and residents to link their phone numbers to their National Identity Numbers, the new policy has sparked outrage.
Nigerians on social media on Friday deplored the plan to collect the IMEIs, citing privacy concerns.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, kicked against the directive describing it as illegal and a violation of the 1999 Constitution.
“We urge President Buhari to direct the Nigerian Communications Commission to immediately withdraw the illegal directive asking Nigerians to submit the International Mobile Equipment Identity of their phones,” the group said in a statement, according to Punch newspaper.
“The directive cannot be justified under any circumstances, as it amounts to mass surveillance, which is contrary to the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], and violates the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and would have a profound impact on other human rights.
“Asking Nigerians to submit their Phone ID is illegal and unconstitutional.”
Others criticised the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, who approved the decision. Mr Pantami came under fire in April after his past extremist views became public. Calls by Nigerians for his dismissal were rebuffed by the president who instead backed the minister.
“I haven’t linked my NIN and I’m definitely not going to submit my IMEI to NCC and Isa Pantami,” said a Twitter user, Elvis Tunde.
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