Stakeholders including global system mobile communications (GSM) operators have faulted the Cybercrime Bill forwarded to the National Assembly by the federal government, saying that the proposal would invade the privacy of subscribers.
The Cybercrime Bill if passed into law would force telecom operators to conduct surveillance on individuals, and release user data to the authorities. A warrant would not be required in cases of "verifiable urgency" to intercept and record electronic communications under the new bill.
But the stakeholders argue that the proposal may also be used to deal with perceived enemies of those in government by monitoring their private communications.
The telecom operators have also stated that said they are aware of the Cybercrime Bill, adding that they had been invited by the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) early this year on the bill where they made their input known to the federal government.
According to Mr Gbolahan Awonuga, executive secretary, Association Of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), who spoke on behalf of Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, chairman of the association, the operators are afraid that the bill as it is will invade the privacy of the telecom subscribers.
He said, "We have expressed our concern and we are afraid that the privacy of subscribers will be invaded. We have called for safeguards which protect subscribers as is done in the other parts of the world. We are still a developing economy and we are afraid that the bill could be used to deal with perceived enemies of those in government by snooping on their private communications."
Last year, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) released a draft document on Lawful Interception Of Communications Messages which will allow authorities to intercept and record personal emails, text messages, instant messages, voice mails and multimedia messages, in order to facilitate a criminal investigation.
The telecommunications industry warned that the bill will put the lives and security of subscribers at risk. According to Gbenga Adebayo, if the bill is passed , it will put telecom operators at risk also as the operators will be forced by agencies of government to release email and phone communications of operators without any warrant from a competent court of law, which can force the subscribers to sue the telecom network.
The bill also empowers authorities to prosecute and convict electronic fraudsters and make the country a conducive environment and attract foreign investment.
Also, some Nigerians yesterday condemned the draft bill on cybercrime sent to the National Assembly by the federal government.
Speaking on the proposed law, former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), said, "If the law is passed, with the level of maturity of the present government in power and the various security agencies, I can assure you that it will be used more against opponents.
"Without the law you can see the level of intolerance and victimisation of political opponents going on because we don't have strong institutions that cannot be influenced or hijacked by those in power."
Also speaking on the issue, an international trade expert and national president of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Fowarders (NAGAFF), Chief Eugene Nweke, said: "This is a breeding issue and it is now becoming a global one with such countries as Germany and Russia accusing the United States of spying on them.
"But, sincerely, the federal government need not go to the National Assembly before performing a critical task that has to do with national security. This is something that should be done quietly.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Joba Oloba, stated that "Nigeria is signatory to African conventions which protects individuals' human rights to privacy; so the right to privacy should not be abused.
"The federal government can do it when it is a matter of national security. "This law when eventually passed may become a problematic law, if the issue or matter for which it is exercised is not a matter of national security."
He pointed out that a lot of crimes are being committed using electronic devices, saying that the banking sector has lost a lot of money through internet fraud and with the nation going cashless.
Also, a stockbroker, Tunde Oyediran, said that the surveillance mechanism will not have strong impact on the capital market, since the market is a transparent establishment.
Producers of child pornography liable to 10-year jail term
But producers and distributors of child pornography in Nigeria will face a 10-year jail term or N20 million fine or both if convicted, according to the provision of the bill before the House of Representatives.
The Cybercrime Bill, 2013, which was sent to the House by President Goodluck Jonathan last week also provides that anybody found involved in sexual activities with a child who was coerced into the act shall be liable to 10 years' imprisonment or N15 million fine or both, if convicted.
The bill also proposes penalties for patronisers of the act as it states that those involved in "procuring child pornography for themselves or another person and those possessing it in a computer system or data storage medium" shall be liable to five years' imprisonment or a fine of N10 million or both upon conviction.
Jonathan also proposed that anyone who commits any offence against the Critical National Information Infrastructure that leads to death shall be liable on conviction to death sentence.
However, if the offence does not result in death but leads to "grievous bodily injury," the offender shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a minimum term of 15 years without option of fine.
According to the bill, Critical National Information Infrastructure is "certain computer systems, networks and information infrastructure vital to the national security of Nigeria or the economy and social wellbeing of its citizens".
Similarly, the bill proposes life imprisonment for any person that accesses or causes to be accessed any computer or computer system or network for purposes of terrorism.
The bill also criminalises racist, gender and xenophobic offences, stating that any person who uses any computer system or network for the purpose of promoting or causing or threatening another person for reasons of race, sex, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, among others, shall be jailed for a term not less than five years or to a fine not less than N10 million or to both.
On "cyber-squatting", it states that a jail term of three years or N7 million fine or both will be imposed on a person if such unauthorized access is done to obtain computer data, securing access to any programme, commercial or industrial secrets or confidential information.
Also, the bill provides a three-year jail term or a fine of not less than N7 million for those convicted for unauthorized modification of computer data. Unlawful interception of communications also attracts a two-year jail term or a fine of N5 million or both on conviction.
However, in subsection 4 and 5, it provides for at least five-year jail term or a fine of N10 million respectively if, in the case of subsection (4), there is a substantial damage as a result of the misuse, or the person uses any automated means in perpetrating the act, for subsection (5).