Big brother Jonathan? - The Nation

By The Citizen

•FG lacks authority to monitor emails, sms, calls, etc.

The report that President Goodluck Jonathan has forwarded an executive bill to the National Assembly for a law to enable security agencies record electronic communication between individuals and seize data from internet providers and mobile networks is alarming. The bill will enable security agencies to order telecommunication companies to conduct surveillance on individuals and release user data to authorities. It will also allow the agencies in 'cases of verifiable' urgencies to intercept and record electronic communications, without a warrant.

Considering the level of impunity, private individuals and perceived opponents suffer in the hands of the power elites, this bill will do more harm than good. The potential chances for abuse, should this bill become law, will heighten as the political parties engage themselves in the run-down to a general election. Again, with our security agencies finding the pull to engage in partisanship difficult, there are possibilities that they will be used to abuse such a law. As events across less democratically developed states have shown, the less authoritative the state is, the more authoritarian it seeks to become.

As partisans may ask, is this bill one of President Jonathan's administration's counter attack on the nationwide tectonic political movements? We urge the legislators to seek answers to this question from the executive as they debate the necessity and nature of such a law. The legislature must also bear in mind the possibility of abuse, where such an extensive security dragnet is entrusted into the hands of partisan interests, as we have seen with the abuse of the police in Rivers State. So, in treating that bill, the National Assembly should take apart all its provisions and examine its potential for abuse, one by one.

The legislature must also be mindful of the provisions of such a tendentious bill considering the clear provisions of the 1999 Constitution on fundamental human rights. They must bear in mind that Nigerians will readily test any law that tends to limit the rights guaranteed to them under the constitution; and it is their duty not to pass any law that will impede the constitution. For their guide, section 37 of the 1999 constitution provides: 'the privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected'. It is hoped that the proposals in the executive bill before the National Assembly, respect this fundamental law.

It is also important that our country should learn from the case of the United States of America and her estranged citizen Edward Snowden, now a fugitive in Russia. The grouse of Mr. Snowden, a villain or model citizen, depending on the commentators' leaning, has substantially put the government of United States on a severe test over her claim to egalitarian democracy. Snowden, we recall, humiliatingly exposed his country as a hypocrite, which snoops on the social networks of friends and foes alike, in the name of national security. With her back to the wall, the world's most advertised democracy was forced to re-swear to oaths of allegiance to her major allies; and despite her best efforts, the image of America as an honest dealer has diminished.

So, our legislators must be wary of handing the executive the power to turn Nigeria to a police state, in the guise of fighting terrorism or other vices. Even scarier, is that the current power brokers have not shown the capacity to exercise power judiciously. We therefore doubt if the run-down to a major national election is an auspicious time for such law.