The House of Representatives took a bold and wise decision the other day when it unanimously adopted the motion to investigate the alleged award of a $40 million internet surveillance contract by the Presidency. By this move, the House mandated its committees on ICT, Justice and Anti-corruption to investigate the alleged contract, while the Presidency was urged to suspend it pending the investigation.
The legislators’ resolve is timely, coming amid global apprehension that internet surveillance poses a real and present danger to individual privacy and national security. Added to this are the peculiarity of inadequate public enlightenment and a dearth of critical infrastructure in Nigeria. All these heighten the threat on the country.
But the House of Representatives has a sacred duty to shun grandstanding and selfish interest in its endeavour, and focus squarely on the national interest.
Coming on the heels of the recent controversies surrounding the alleged use of American intelligence surveillance programmes in Canada and Britain, the news of the intended contract tends to confirm the existence of an influential power teleguiding ultra-secretive networks scouring through global telephone records and internet data in search of patterns of suspicious activities.
With an internet surveillance, the government could, either by fiat or by law, employ clandestine system to access an avalanche of information in partnership with influential internet companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple; and then open its space to such intelligence institutions as American National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) “to collect materials, including search history, the content of e-mails, file transfers and live chats”.
It is understandable that there is a global political obsession with terrorism driven by Western powers, who, as recent events have shown, have resolved to extend their dragnets on non-Americans living abroad. But Nigeria should not meekly join the internet surveillance bandwagon at a time when its people are ill-educated about the security situation of the country and their rights are violated with impunity.
Any internet surveillance, therefore, is a further violation of the right to privacy. And ordinarily, the government ought to be at the forefront in defence of the peoples’ rights. Alas, the converse is more discernible in the country.
The demand that people’s right to privacy be respected by government is a reminder of the paradox of the technologically invasive world of today. With ATM cards, GSM phones, credit cards or debit cards, smart cards ID, various social networking accounts online, does anyone have a private life anymore? How should the issue of balance between security and privacy be addressed?
There is a lot of educating and enlightening of the public to be done before the country becomes saddled with the dilemma of choosing between security and privacy. As a Canadian legislator warned: “Privacy is threatened in the absence of an appropriate level of knowledge about national security institutions and practices, in the absence of clear government statements and actions in its defence, and in fuzzy law-making.”
Fuzzy law-making has been the bane of project and resources management in this country. Judging from antecedents of government officials and contractors, wherein scandalous pecuniary gains are often the motivations for contracts and projects, Nigerians have come to view this internet surveillance contract as another exercise in wasting and pillaging national wealth. Every contract awarded, as Nigerians have come to perceive, is a dubious enrichment exercise for some persons. This should stop.
Moreover, the government may want to explore other options of such satellite surveillance. The much talked-about NigCom Sat 1R, Sat 2 and the yet to be launched Sat X, complemented by spying activities of drones, could be harnessed to achieve whatever goal the supposed internet surveillance should achieve. President Goodluck Jonathan must ensure that this country, though lagging behind in terms of technological development, is not sold for a piece of cake.
Irrespective of the alleged characteristic inanity of the activities of these lawmakers, to investigate the alleged award of a $40 million internet surveillance contract by the Presidency is desirable and commendable. However, the House should go further.
Since the lawmakers have identified the adverse moral and legal implications of the internet surveillance, they should demonstrate to Nigerians that the intended call for investigation is not an entreaty for gratification. And the only way they can do that is to terminate that contract, investigate and then debate.
Source: The Guardian
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