Nigeria’s move to link digital identity numbers to SIM cards sparks lawsuit

smartphone biometric identity and document verification

The controversy surrounding the decision by Nigeria’s federal government to have citizens link their biometrics-backed digital IDs to their SIM cards appears to be deepening as the move is now facing a legal challenge. The plan involves telecom operators in the country enrolling the biometrics of subscribers to help them register for national identification numbers (NINs), as well as associating existing NINs with mobile accounts.

Nigerian Tribune reports that Edo Civil Society Organizations (EDOCSO), a coalition of civil rights groups in Edo State, has filed a suit requesting a federal High Court in the state capital, Benin, to declare the move as a breach of citizens’ right to privacy as guaranteed by the 1999 constitution.

The defendants in the case include the national identity management commission (NIMC); the federal ministry of communications and digital economy; the Nigerian communications commission (NCC); the Attorney-General of the federation; the central bank of Nigeria (CBN); the federal road safety commission (FRSC), and the Nigeria immigration service (NIS).

All the seven defendants in the suit appear to be involved in the federal government’s NIN-SIM card linkage drive launched in December 2020.

Apart from urging the Benin Division of the federal high court to declare the decision by the federal government as being “…ultra vires (beyond the authority)…, unconstitutional, illegal, null and of no effect,” the plaintiffs are also asking the court to prevent the defendants from blocking any SIM cards that have not been linked to the national digital ID.

The stated intention of associating SIMs with biometric digital IDs is reduced crime, but the project is also expected to help Nigeria reach 100 million NIN registrations by the end of the year, NIMC Director General Aliyu Aziz said during an ID4Africa Livecast presentation.

The previous February 9 prescribed deadline for the linkage has been extended to April 6, ITWeb Africa reports, after which unregistered SIM cards will be blocked, but it is unclear if all of the over-190 million mobile phone users in the country will meet the requirement.

In an effort to accelerate the process, NIMC has launched a mobile app.

The lawsuit from EDOCSO is just one of many challenges so far faced by the Nigerian government. Many others have not only raised data privacy concerns, but also operational difficulties related to the NIN-SIM card integration process.

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