Wednesday, May 29, 2013

May 29: We have got you by the Balls by Guest Blogger

I don't know what comes to mind for you reading this title but I remember hearing this same words a couple of times prior from diverse sources over the years. Usually, whenever anyone receives such statements, it is an indication that one is hemmed in on every side without any possibility of escape.

The person(s) who dares to utter these words is supremely confident. S/he is certain that power and influence in this situation resides with them and they can either give life or take it at their pleasure. These persons are not given to caution in their speech as they infused with the spirit of the invincible with a knowledge of their endless powers.

From time to time, the executive arm of government in Nigeria acts like such a personality and the case of $40m USD contract to protect Nigeria's Internet is no exception. Because the executive holds the purse strings hence control the terms of engagement, anyone actively serving in this arm of government acts like one who answers to nobody else apart from their boss. This is prevalent with occupants of the villa both in times past and present.

The allegiance of civil servants especially the ones who rely on the appointing powers of the President to advance to the very top levels of their chosen profession, is primarily to the executive with occasional deference to the legislative & judicial arms of government when it cannot be avoided.

The current silence or lack of comment by the relevant government bodies on our dear 'Internet Protection' project that is expected to cost $40m USD is rather not surprising. Whenever discussions on ICT emerge, governments all over, talk of the need to properly protect their citizens as we see the good, the bad & the ugly of using technology.

However, anyone who uses anything in this world will acknowledge our devices are just tools that by using, the human factor decides in what manner, shape & model its impact will be e.g. the same gas using for cooking could if not correctly used lead to a fire outbreak.

The existing nature of governance sees an executive arm that is all powerful followed by the legislative arm. Infact, we see power tussles from active players in these two levels of government but i think the one that poses the greatest danger is the judiciary that has little influence relative to the other two arms.

No society that makes good progress exists without checks & balance. This is for the benefit of everyone as we like to say 'good intent is not enough' thus anyone left to his/her own devices will eventually slide into anarchy & sheer dictatorship even though that was not the intent at the onset.

The issue of data privacy & protection cannot be trivialized and technology is at the fulcrum as we all use the internet from a myriad of devices with service provision from the private sector. However, to aggregate sensitive & personal information and make it accessible to practically anyone who says its in our national security that they require such and not subject the process of request or collation to proper justification is not just disastrous but greatly leaves us open to descend into open censorship.

I remember the movie 'Independence Day' starring Will Smith. HIs character suffered some severe case of identity theft with no area of his life left unturned as the Director of a National Security Agency was convinced he was an enemy of the state whose goal was to destroy the state having gotten access to certain high security clearance level events illegally (in his view). At the end of the movie, one line stands out 'Who is going to monitor the monitors?'. This is because a senior member of government was speaking at a press conference and acknowledging mistakes had been made while apologising to person(s) affected.

We cannot overemphasise the need to ensure Nigerians can proactively engage in cyber space without fear of attacks or other incidents. However, to try to use this legitimate need as the basis for creating a wall-like structure that actively monitors what citizens are doing online and archive such records to be accessed by persons charged with maintaining our security without oversight from all other arms of government and clear transparency in how this works does far more harm than good.

The posture must be that we recognise we are all custodians of common trust thus, treat ourselves with dignity, respect and equity without pre-supposing any person or group is more vested in the progress of Nigeria than others.

- Babatope Soremi. You can reach him via babatope {at}

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