A coalition of civil society organizations, the Action Group on Free Civic Space in Nigeria (AGFCS), has called for clear and effective regulations to protect Nigerian citizens from human rights abuses related to the use of digital surveillance technologies by the government.
The coalition made the call on November 11, 2022 in Abuja when Tijah Bolton-Akpan, Executive Director of Policy Alert, led members of the group on an advocacy visit to the National Coordinator of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in Nigeria.
The visit was part of advocacy efforts under the project, “Advocating for import restrictions on surveillance technologies in Nigeria,” implemented by Policy Alert under the auspices of AGFCS.
Tijah observed that there is “a growing atmosphere of repression in the country today, where everyday citizens and organisations have to look over their shoulders all the time and are afraid to express themselves because they are unsure who might be spying on their devices.”
According to him: “This is a serious pushback on civic space in Nigeria. The country has made good progress on open government reforms in recent years. However, given the centrality of citizens’ engagement to these reforms, any threat to free expression amounts to a threat to OGP implementation”
Tijah noted that while surveillance technology is an important part of security infrastructure, he drew attention to that fact that such surveillance is only justified when prescribed by law, when it is necessary to achieve a legitimate aim, and when its use is proportionate to the aim pursued in line with the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance.
He said: “What we see in Nigeria today is an arbitrary regime in which technologies are imported in an indiscriminate and unregulated manner, and routinely deployed under the guise of security in unnecessary and disproportionate ways to snoop on citizens’ data and devices, thereby violating the rights of citizens to privacy, free expression and association.”
The group noted that the first step towards addressing these threats was to impose stronger regulatory controls on the importation of such technologies and to strengthen the nation’s data privacy laws.
AGFCS noted that while Commitment 12 of the draft OGP Third National Action Plan (NAP III) addresses human rights and civic space issues, there was need for specific actions addressing the indiscriminate and unregulated importation and use of surveillance technologies.
In her response, the OGP National Coordinator, Dr. Mrs. Gloria Ahmed, commended the group for submitting its inputs into the draft OGP NAP III. She noted that free civic space is important for effective OGP implementation and expressed the commitment of the National Secretariat to incorporate the group’s recommendations on surveillance technologies into the next OGP national action plan.