Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has sued President Muhammadu Buhari over the failure to review and rescind his reported approval for security agencies to access people’s personal details via National Identification Number-Subscriber Identity Module, NIN-SIM linkage without due process of law.
Joined in the suit as Respondents are: Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and Mr. Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.
President Buhari had in February reportedly given approval for some security agencies to access the database of the National Identity Management Commission in the course of carrying out their duties.
But in the suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, last Friday at the Federal High Court, Lagos, the organization, asked the court to determine “whether the approval for security agencies to access people’s personal details via the National Identification Number [NIN] without due process is consistent with the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality.
“An order setting aside President Buhari’s approval for security agencies to access people’s personal details via NIN-SIM linkage without due process of law, as this amounts to violations of private and digital communication rights, right to family life, human dignity and personal liberty.”
SERAP is also asking the court for “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Federal Government or any other authority, persons or group of persons from unlawfully accessing people’s personal details via NIN-SIM linkage without due process of the law.”
In the suit, SERAP is arguing that: “If President Buhari’s approval is not rescinded, millions of law-abiding Nigerians may feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance.”
According to SERAP, “Interference with an individual’s right to privacy is not permissible if it is unlawful or arbitrary.”
SERAP maintained that, “It is crucial to respect the autonomy of individuals to receive and share information of a personal nature without interference from the authorities, if unintended adverse consequences are to be avoided.”
The suit read in part: “The right to privacy allows Nigerians to hold opinions and exercise freedom of expression without arbitrary or illegal interference and attacks.
“While the effectiveness of the fight against serious crime may depend to a great extent on the use of modern investigation techniques, such an objective of general interest, however fundamental it may be, cannot in itself justify the unlawful or arbitrary interference with the right to privacy.
“The power to access individual’s details raises serious concerns as to their arbitrary use by the authorities responsible for applying them in a manner that reduces human rights by the monitoring and surveillance of millions of Nigerians.
“Violations or abuses of the right to privacy might affect the enjoyment of other human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and to hold opinions without interference.
“Private conversations of individuals – which belong to their intimate sphere and contribute to their personal development – also enjoy strong legal protection and can only be limited based on the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality.
“If not reversed, the approval would allow security agencies to access the data of the over 73 million Nigerians who have linked their National Identity Number with their SIM, and other people who may do so.”
Meanwhile, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.