Digital platform usage has soared among Nigerians leading to mass production of content. Consequently, recent years have seen growth in the clamor for content moderation online. Indeed, governments and interactive computer service platforms have grappled with how to moderate what is deemed harmful content in a bid to keep users safe, protect their data and privacy, and prevent government overreach.
At the first issuance of the draft code of practice, concerns were highlighted that are yet to be addressed in the updated version. Laws and regulations must focus on the people and their human rights. Although this draft code of practice represents an opportunity to protect the digital rights of Nigerians online, it should not be used in the same vein to stifle, harass and unlawfully surveil citizens and users or in any way circumvent human rights.
The updated code of practice comes with a number of concerns worth highlighting.
- Data Privacy: The code provides that data be stored from these platforms, including information that has been deleted or flagged by the government. No mention is made of how long such data can be held. Indefinite access to user data that is no longer available to the user contravenes the right to be forgotten in the NDPR (Nigeria Data Protection Regulation) and breaches the right to privacy. The National Information Technical Development Agency (NITDA), the issuing and enforcing agency of the regulation, raises concerns about the ability of the agency to provide oversight over itself.
- Address Multistakeholderism: Internet governance covers a wide range of stakeholders, which include children, minority groups, academics, journalists and content creators, businesses as well as various government organisations. These multiple stakeholders need to be visibly involved in the internet governance process, from consultation to certain levels of decision-making and implementation. Considerations should include a governance board with these stakeholders represented adequately. We are clearly demanding that this code should not only be a product of a multi-stakeholder process, its implementation must also be overseen by a multi-stakeholder group involving the relevant government agencies inclusing the National Human Rights Commission, digital rights organisations and other relevant civil society organisations, the technical community, representatives of the media, the Nigerian Internet Governnce Forun, and other relevant stakeholder in the ecosystem.
- Reports: The code asks that reports be made on Number of registered users on its Platform in Nigeria; Number of active registered users on its Platform in Nigeria; Number of closed and deactivated accounts in Nigeria among other things. These reports should be made public, accessible and transparent. The government should also commit to transparency around the disclosure of requests. These should include the details of the government’s (both state and federal) requests for action posts and accounts.
- Vague Stipulations: The code attempts to address offences of different natures and burdens of proof within a single line. These stipulations are far too ambiguous, in contrast to other pieces of legislation which have already taken time to define relevant terms painstakingly. For instance, it requires platforms to:“…inform users not to create, publish, promote, modify, transmit, store or share any content or information that is defamatory, libelous, pornographic, revenge porn, bullying, harassing, obscene, encouraging money laundering, exploiting a child, fraud, violence, or inconsistent with Nigeria’s laws and public order.” Offences already outlined in the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act, Child Rights Act, Money Laundering Act, and more without giving credence to these laws.
- Existing Legislative Efforts: There are existing legislative efforts that can be supported and augmented to cover these concerns. NITDA should consider tilting its focus on supporting the passing of relevant legislation such as the Digital Rights and Freedoms Bill and the Data Protection Bill.
It is imperative that any such code or attempt at regulating Nigeria’s digital space must be carried out in good faith.