'Interception of Communications Must Be Backed by Legislation'

'Interception of Communications Must Be Backed by Legislation'

AUN Law Professor Dr. Uchenna Jerome Orji has canvassed a legal basis for the interception of communications in Nigeria.

The Law professor was the lead speaker on 'An Inquiry into the Legal Regime for the Interception of Communications in Nigeria', a seminar of the School of Law.

It is a common expectation that consumers' data, including the web pages they access, whom they communicate with, and the content of the communication they make should be protected.

"This need arises from the right to privacy," he said, stating further that "the need to protect communication arises from the universal declaration of human rights, Article 12. In Nigeria, the 1999 constitution in section 37 provides for the right to privacy."

He observed that since the early days of electronic communications, individuals have expected that their communications will remain private.

"This expectation has not always been fulfilled due to the secret interception of communications by State actors or unauthorized third parties."

The expectation that communications will be private arises from the fundamental right to privacy or the 'right to be let alone'.

He explained that legal limitations on privacy rights allow state authorities to carry out the lawful interception of private communications.

"However, privacy rights are rarely absolute since such rights have to be balanced against public interests such as the need to assist law enforcement and security agencies in their efforts to apprehend criminals and protect public safety."

He maintained that while there can be a need for an interception in communications by state authorities for the essence of national security, such needs to be legitimate.

He gave the legal framework that provides for the interception of communication in Nigeria to be based on Sections 45 of the Nigerian Constitution which creates a legal basis for it. The laws that have been passed based on this include the Nigerian Communications Act, the Cyber Crimes Act, the Terrorism Prevention Act, and regulations such as the Registration of Subscribers Regulations, the Lawful Interception of Communications Regulations, and the Nigerian Communications Enforcement Process Regulations. In his presentation, he explained how they promote interception and how they violate privacy rights.

As for the case of the Nigerian Communications Act, for instance, he said sections 147 and 148 of the Act provides for the power of the NCC to order interception of communications during a public emergency or in the interest of public safety.

"The problem remains that in many instances the power to order communications interception does not have any provisions for judicial review. And when there is no court order, there could be potential for the mismanagement of state powers and the violation of privacy rights."

Third-year law student, Khadijah Awwal Shed, said she found the presentation to be insightful and very educating. 

Reported by Omorogbe Omorogiuwa