Report sees need to strengthen Internet freedom, data privacy laws
More judicial and regulatory oversight is needed to sufficiently protect free speech online and personal data, especially when government institutions are responsible for breaches, Nigeria’s data advisory and analytics firm Stears Data, has stated.
The report calling for better online free speech laws, data privacy regulations and stakeholder coordination for greater impact, comes at the end of a six-month study undertaken by Stears Data, with support from Luminate, a global philanthropic organisation focused on empowering people and institutions to work together to build just and fair societies.
The report provided insight into key issues in data and digital rights; effective approaches to addressing those issues; and opportunities for impact, with input from representatives in the public and private sectors, civil society and media.
COO of Stears, Abdul Abdulrahim, said: “Recent events such as the Twitter ban highlight the importance of a strong data and digital rights community. We’ve seen a growth in advocacy by civil society, but this needs to be supported by a progressive judiciary to effectively protect free speech online and data privacy.”
On data protection, the study found that “there is insufficient judicial and regulatory oversight available to sufficiently protect personal data…” as provisions in the telecommunication and cybercrime legislation can be exploited for surveillance purposes by government departments.
According to it, in the areas of open data, the report highlighted that “the Freedom of Information Act… merely imposes a duty to react to requests, and a deeper cultural shift is needed towards proactive disclosure.” This comes from a long history of secrecy, entrenched in law by the Official Secrets Act.
On Freedom of Speech and Expression, the report noted that government actors tend to lean on the side of censorship with attempts to introduce bills that give authorities the power to shut down the internet, limit access to social media, and make criticising the government punishable with penalties that include imprisonment.
Co-Founder of the Digital Rights Lawyers Initiative, Olumide Babalola, said digital rights and data protection law and practice are in their infancy in Nigeria. He said the laws are not comprehensive enough to cater to its nuances, judicial precedents are non-existent or scanty, professionals are few and not adequately equipped.
He however, said all hope is not lost as enthusiasts and stakeholders continue to widen the space on a mission to put Nigeria on the world map in the digital rights field.
The report concluded that advocacy, strategic litigation and public education are important drivers of change, noting that “all relevant stakeholders needed to develop Nigeria’s data and digital rights space already exist but joining forces can help make their efforts more impactful.”