THE National Assembly has approved a total of N4.86 billion for the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) to spy and monitor WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians.
This was contained in the supplementary budget of N982.7 billion approved by the lawmakers of both chambers of the National Assembly last Wednesday.
According to Premium Times, a breakdown of the money shows that N1.93 billion was earmarked for ‘WhatsApp Intercept Solution’ while N2.93 billion was for ‘Thuraya Interception Solution,’ a communications system used for monitoring voice calls, call-related information, short message service (SMS), and data traffic, among others.
This is part of a renewed effort by the Nigerian government to muzzle and gag the Nigerian media space.
The National Assembly is already considering obnoxious National Press Council (NPC) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) bills with a view to allowing the executive to control and regulate the media.
A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in May this year detailed that the Nigerian security operatives acquired technology developed by United States and Israeli firms to carry out forensic surveillance on the mobile phones of journalists.
The Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED), sold by an Israeli firm known as Cellebrite, and the Forensic Toolkit (FTK), which was a product of a US company, were used to extract information from phones and computers.
They are also used in breaking into locked devices and decrypting information.
The CPJ reported that a forensic search was carried out on the mobile phones and computers of the Regional Editor of Daily Trust in the North-East Uthman Abubakar after he was arrested by the Nigerian military in Maiduguri, Borno State, in 2019.
Abubakar’s phones and computer were seized while he was held for two days and interrogated about his sources concerning a report he wrote on a military operation. He was eventually released without charges.
However, during the period the journalist was held, a forensic search was conducted on his phone and computer.