By Mbanan Mku
The digital rights and freedom bill was conceived by Paradigm Initiative working with Net Rights Coalition in 2015. It was introduced to parliament in April 2016 and sponsored by Honorable Chukwuemeka Ujam, who is the Deputy Chairman House committee on telecommunications.
The bill is a legislation proposed to be an act to provide for the protection of human rights online and protect internet users in Nigeria from infringement of their fundamental freedom and also to guarantee application of human rights for users of digital platforms.
The bill successfully completed its journey through the house of representatives on the 19th of December and 3 months later the Nigerian senate concurred with its sister house and passed the bill.
Here is why the bill is important. There are National legislations that relate to the internet, but these legislations are far from the reality of having a law on internet freedom which is consistent with international human rights standards. Some of these legislations are in the negative and criminalizes some internet activities thereby limiting freedom of expression online, right to information online and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
Furthermore, Nigeria has no data protection law even though there have been massive collection of personal data including biometric data of Citizens. In the absence of a data protection law, the personal data of citizens are put at risk and the institutions or entities who collect this data are under no legal obligation to protect the data. That is why you can receive a random message from business owners or service providers on your phone and you wonder how they got your number.
The need for a legislation that covers internet activities as well as protecting the human rights of citizens from been infringed upon cannot be overemphasized.
Here are some of the objectives of the bill:
- To guarantee the application of human rights which apply offline within the digital space and online.
- To provide safeguards against abuse and provide opportunities for redress where infringement occurs.
- To ensure data privacy and safeguard sensitive citizens data held by government and privacy institutions.
- To equip the judiciary with the necessary framework to protect human rights online.
- To safeguard the digital liberty of Nigerians now and in the future.
- To seek the guarantee of inviolability of communications, except by order of court obtained in accordance to due process of law.
The digital rights and freedom bill is aimed at protecting the rights of citizens online after the passage of the Cyber Crime Act, 2016. When the bill is finally assented by the president, it will safeguard the rights of bloggers, data owners, and internet service providers. It will also ensure that citizens are not sentenced to death by “HANGING” for constructive political criticism and political expression in the form of blogs, commentary, cartoons or memes.
As we await the presidential assent to the bill, It is important for internet enthusiasts in Nigeria and Nigerians as a whole to be fully equipped with knowledge and skills to engage the regulatory and legislative processes. As we occupy ourselves online we must also take interest in the policy issues which would preserve the free and open nature of the internet and enable us to continue to enjoy its full benefits.
Mbanan Mku is a Policy and Digital Engagement Officer and Communications Expert with Public and Private Development Center (PPDC). She works on issues related to internet policies and Child Online safety.