Nigeria’s House of Representatives wants network providers to share caller location with security agents

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I just read Paradigm Initiative of Nigeria (PIN)’s press release from this morning, and a new Bill called The Caller Location Information Bill has passed for second reading in the Nigerian House of Representatives.

According to its description, it is “A bill that seeks to avail security operatives and telecommunications operators a platform for providing caller location information to law enforcement agencies institutions were lives of innocent persons are at stake”

The Bill, which passed for second reading on Friday, October 28, 2016, is titled  “A Bill for an act relating to caller location information of users of Telecommunication devices and other matters connected therewith [HB347]”. It was sponsored by Honourable Iduma Igariwey representing Afikpo North/Afikpo South of Ebonyi State.

If this bill is passed into law, telecoms service providers will have to provide security agencies with a caller’s location information on request. The bill will protect the telecoms provider from liability as a result of its action to provide a caller’s location information. The bill will also allow telecom providers to dictate their own protocol for releasing these caller location details to any security agency.

Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director, PIN describes the Bill as dangerous. He pointed out how the Bill compromises rights to privacy and the fact that it can become a tool for the powerful to connive with security agencies to clampdown on activists, critics and whistle-blowers. He also added that the Bill does not properly define the circumstances that will require the disclosure of  caller’s location information.

In his words, “we would like to call on all stakeholders to reject this Bill in its entirety and that the Nigeria House of Representatives suspend further deliberation or consideration of the draft legislation as it was not thoroughly conceived and lacking the needed rigorousity such a sensitive Bill requires”.

This bill is problematic in so many ways. Apart from the fact that it compromises our rights to privacy, the vague description about the circumstances behind disclosure of a caller’s location leaves it wide open for potentially dangerous interpretation. In a country where access to judicial recourse is already at it’s lowest, the chances that this bill would be exploited by the powerful to oppress the less privileged is high.

We should of course consider its potential for use in curbing criminal activities. Some of those activities include the now ubiquitous kidnapping. But who says it won’t become one more tool in the hands of incompetent security agents to harass and bully Nigerians?

Our judicial system currently places values on the rich, while eschewing the rights of the poor.  This is why a Bill that disregards privacy laws and allows a business-minded third party (the telecoms provider) to dictate the protocols for the release of a caller’s location, has no place here.