By Adekunle Adekoya
The last is yet to be heard of NCC’s draft wiretap law, officially called The Draft Lawful Interception of Communications Regulations (2013), which the telecoms regulator, the NCC has on its website.
An organization, JACITAD, recently organized a discussion forum on the draft regulations, and some five-star discussants were on hand to dissect the issue. They include ALTON President, Gbenga Adbayo, ATCON President, Lanre Ajayi, and former FCT minister, Nasir el-Rufai. My attention is on the revelations made by el-Rufai at that forum. Before that however, el-Rufai raised some questions, viz:
(1) What are the constitutional provisions regarding privacy or otherwise of physical and electronic communications between citizens?
(2) Under what conditions does the constitution and laws allow the violation of such privacy, if any?
(3) When the Legislature passed the NCA, did it reasonably intend to give the NCC the powers to regulate the interception of private communications, thus enabling the infringement of fundamental rights without specific legislation via an Act of National Assembly?
(4) Do the provisions of sections 70, 72, 146-148 of the NCA, without more, adequately grant the NCC the legitimacy to issue and enact the regulations under consideration?
(5) Assuming the Constitution and the NCA enables the NCC to issue the regulations, are they fit for the purpose of protecting the privacy of the citizen while enabling access to law enforcement agents in the public interest?
(6) If not, what additions, modifications or omissions are necessary to achieve the desirable balance?
These are mind-boggling questions, and all of us have a duty to seek answers to them. You may not feel concerned as an average citizen, but mark it— you are somehow affected or will somehow be affected. If not, remember Martin Niemoeller, the Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany, who wrote a poem now known as First They Came…I reproduce it hereunder:
First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
Interesting, eh? Well, Mallam el-Rufai then landed a bombshell; he alleged that “the unlawful interception of communications have been going on for years.” He further asked at the JACITAD forum: “Why has the Federal Government committed between $40-$61 million off-budget to monitor our emails, instant messaging and social media activities?”
Every Nigerian who own at least a cell pbone is potentially under fire from this draft wiretap regulation, and if el-Rufai is correct, and he should know certain things, then not a few people would have had their private communications breached in the last few years, legally(?) or illegally. Where are we going? Maybe we are at that bus-stop but can’t recognize it yet.