ICT Africa Headline News

Cybercrime - Nigeria Seeks Powers to Intercept SMS, Emails, BBMs, Fax

28 January, 2014
Daily Trust

The Federal Government has initiated a draft law that empowers security agents to intercept and record electronic communications between individuals, and seize usage data from internet service providers and mobile networks.

If the Cybercrime Bill is enacted into law, authorities can intercept and record personal emails, text messages, instant messages, voice mails and multimedia messages, in order to facilitate a criminal investigation.

These are contained in the details of the bill that President Goodluck Jonathan submitted to the National Assembly last week, a copy of which was obtained by Daily Trust.

The bill empowers security agencies to ask telecommunication companies to conduct surveillance on individuals, and release user data to authorities.

A warrant would not be required in cases of "verifiable urgency" to intercept and record electronic communications under the new bill.

But where there is no urgency, an ex parte order of a court is needed before a law enforcement officer conducts a cybercrime investigation.

Under a subheading titled 'Interception of electronic communications,' section 22 of the bill says, "Where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the content of any electronic communication is reasonably required for the purposes of a criminal investigation or proceedings, a judge may on the basis of information on oath:

"(a) order a service provider, through the application of technical means to collect, record, permit or assist competent authorities with the collection or recording of content data associated with specified communications transmitted by means of a computer system; or

"(b) authorise a law enforcement officer to collect or record such data through application of technical means."

The bill defines "electronic communication" that could be intercepted to include "communication in electronic format, instant messages, short message service (SMS), e-mail, video, voice mails, multimedia message service (MMS), fax and pager."

Instant messaging is a type of chat which offers real-time text, video and audio transmission over the Internet. It includes Blackberry Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Google Hangout, Yahoo Messenger, Facebook Messenger, 2go and others.

Based on the bill, "interception" includes "listening to or recording of communication data of a computer or acquiring the substance, meaning or purport of such and any acts capable of blocking or preventing any of these functions."

Section 21 of the bill also states that security agencies can order internet service providers or telecom companies to "preserve, hold or retain any traffic data, subscriber information or related content."

Where a service provider refuses to release its subscriber data requested by the security agencies, the firm is liable to N10million fine, while each of its directors, managers or officers shall be liable for three years jail term, N7 million fine or both.

The Federal Government's bill is coming nearly a year after an Israeli company, Elbit Systems, announced that it won a Nigerian government's $40 million internet monitoring contract.

Other areas covered by the bill include transmitting false electronic messages, child pornography, paedophilia and cyber-terrorism.

Section 15 (1) provides for a jail term of not less than one year or a fine of N2 million for "any person who, by means of a public electronic communications network persistently sends a message or other matter that (a) is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character or causes any such message or matter to be so sent; or (b) he knows to be false, the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another or cause."

Also, the bill prescribes death sentence to a person who commits crime against Critical National Information Infrastructure, which is defined as "certain computer systems, networks and information infrastructure vital to the national security of Nigeria or the economy and social well-being of its citizens."

However, if the offence does not result in death but leads to "grievous bodily injury," the offender shall be liable to imprisonment for a minimum term of 15 years.

A life imprisonment also awaits "any person that accesses or causes to be accessed any computer or computer system or network for purposes of terrorism." The bill says "terrorism" shall have the same meaning under Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011, as amended.

The bill imposes at least a 10-year jail term or N20 million fine for any person convicted for producing and distributing child pornography.

It specifies 10 years in jail, N15million fine or both for paedophiles.

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