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Security agencies granted access to Nigeria’s biometric database; Buhari faces lawsuit

Security agencies granted access to Nigeria’s biometric database; Buhari faces lawsuit

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a nonprofit advocacy group, has filed a lawsuit against Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari for allegedly allowing security agencies access to the biometric information collected by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) for the establishment of the National Identification Number (NIN).

In a statement published on its website, SERAP criticizes President Buhari for granting permission to security agencies to access the NIMC biometric database through the NIN-SIM linkage process, and called for the instructions to be reversed.

Early last month, many local portals including Nairametrics quoted Digital Economy Minister Isa Pantami as telling Nigerian journalists in Saudi Arabia that President Buhari had given the nod for some security agencies to access the biometric NIN database while in the exercise of their duties.

To SERAP, this move is worrisome because “the power to access individuals’ 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.”

A date for the first hearing of the case is yet to be fixed.

“The undermining of the universality of fundamental human rights, alongside the potential encroachment upon the enjoyment of the right to privacy raised by the presidential approval, shows the need for the approval to be reversed,” a portion of the SERAP suit reads.

“Unlawful or arbitrary access to people’s personal details would contravene section 37 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended), article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which protect against arbitrary or unlawful interference with one’s privacy.”

While the group underlines the importance of the respect for privacy rights, it is urging the court to instruct the president to rescind his decision.

The plaintiffs have asked the court to annul “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.”

They are also calling for a declaration that President Buhari’s approval for security agencies to access people’s personal details via the NIN-SIM linkage without due process of law is “inconsistent with the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality.”

“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. 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,” SERAP posits.

“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.”

In December 2020, SERAP also petitioned Buhari over the collection of biometrics anew for the NIN-SIM linkage, and raised concerns over threats that unlinked SIM cards would be suspended from the network.

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