By Onyebuchi Sampson
A Lagos-based rights group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has written to President Muhammadu Buhari over alleged unlawful access to subscribers’ details through the NIN-SIM linkage programme.
The group urged the President 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 NIN-SIM linkage without due process of law.”
SERAP in the letter 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.
The 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2022 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “If your reported approval is not rescinded, millions of law-abiding Nigerians may feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance.”
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.”
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 also said, “Interference with an individual’s right to privacy is not permissible if it is unlawful or arbitrary.”
The letter, 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.
“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.
“The reported presidential approval to security agencies does not align with the principle that any restriction on human rights capable of limitation should be the least intrusive means possible, and shall be necessary and proportionate to the benefit sought.
“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.”
SERAP further noted that the right to privacy can enable the enjoyment of other rights and the free development of an individual’s personality and identity, and an individual’s ability to participate in political, economic, social and cultural life.
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.