The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently review and rescind his reported approval for security agencies to access people’s personal details via NIN-SIM (National Identification Number-Subscriber Identity Module) linkage without due process of law.
SERAP also urged the President 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”.
“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest,” it added.
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 in the course of carrying out their duties.
In the letter dated February 5, 2022, and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said, “If your reported approval is not rescinded, millions of law-abiding Nigerians may feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance.”
It continued: “The interference entailed by unlawfully or arbitrarily accessing people’s personal details is far-reaching and must be considered to be particularly serious.
“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.
“Interference with an individual’s right to privacy is not permissible if it is unlawful or arbitrary.”
The letter also read 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.
“Private conversations of individuals – which belong to their intimate sphere and contribute to their personal development – also enjoy strong legal protection and can only be limited based on the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality.”
SERAP described such a move as illegal, saying, “Unlawful or arbitrary access to people’s personal details would contravene section 37 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended), article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which protect against arbitrary or unlawful interference with one’s privacy.”
The letter was copied to Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and Mr Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.