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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

WhatsApp and FG’s N4.8bn monitoring spirit - ITREALMS

Features@ITREALMS ... making leadership SENSE with digital news!

In this piece, REMMY NWEKE, examines the looming imbroglio over FG’s N4.8bn budgetary allocation to monitor WhatsApp in Nigeria and political expediency.

What about WhatsApp?

The Federal Government (FG) was recently reported to have earmarked the sum of N4.8 billion for the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) to monitor WhatsApp, an encrypted messaging application, and Thuraya, a satellite telephone.
This, ITREALMS gathered was contained in the supplementary 2021 budget passed by the National Assembly (NASS), lately; approving the sum of N982 billion as the total supplementary budget for 2021 and was to boost military operations among others, hence the need to monitor WhatsApp, which is reputed for its encrypted end-to-end messages.

WhatsApp was founded by Jan Koum and Brian Acton after joint 20-year at Yahoo. WhatsApp joined Facebook group in February 2014 after it was purchased for $16 billion, about N6,583,040,000.00; broken down into $4 billion in cash and about $12 billion in Facebook shares. It continued to operate as a separate app with a laser focus on building a messaging service that works fast and reliably anywhere globally.

Its independence even after being acquired by Facebook some Seven years ago meant that WhatsApp operations is chaired by Jan Koum, an Ukrainian-American, while Mr. Chris Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

WhatsApp is one of the popular Over-The-Top (OTT)-based instant messaging services that connect users directly through internet connections, bypassing traditional telecom mobile networks operators. Other OTT services include but not limited to Skype, Viber and Hike to name a few.

Dictators incorporated:

An angry citizen Babs Ajayi wondered what the Nigeria’s president, General Muhammadu Buhari, retired, did when people were hungry, jobless, struggling, and without access to health care? But worried and “You gag them and eavesdrop on who they talk to, who they share messages with and control their views and opinions.”

Ajayi, however, welcomed Nigerians to Buhari's dictatorship regime, stressing that General Buhari is going to spend N4.8bn to monitor WhatsApp messages and phone calls “of people he is already killing with hunger and unemployment! Idiocy has never been given such a worse meaning.”

Also reacting, a Tweep, Mr. Jackson Ude with @Jacksonpbn, alleged that some bad eggs in General Buhari’s regime are warming up to pocket N4.8 billion for political expediency, under the guise of monitoring WhatsApp and calls of Nigerians to wake up. He noted that United States Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and others are yet to break into WhatsApp, but Nigeria where electricity is still a mirage amidst bad governance, already has a budget to do the impossible.
The face of dictator ... Gen. Buhari retired

Will Nigeria ban WhatsApp?

FBI, Jackson reminded Nigerians, went to court with Apple to gain access, they failed, they failed with Facebook owners of WhatsApp and they are yet to decode the encryption. China on the other hand, also failed, and then banned WhatsApp and got their own app so they can monitor. But Nigeria suddenly has an answer to an encrypted app, which is laughable.

An Abuja based stakeholder, Michael Orekyeh noted that WhatsApp key selling proposition is end-to-end encryption. So, “What lie are they telling themselves that they will have access to WhatsApp?

This is not possible. If Nigeria attempts ban of access on WhatsApp, they will lose businesses globally. “This is a fantasy.”

Something fishy about monitoring social media:

By attempting to monitor WhatsApp, Nigeria may not be the first but there are something fishy about countries that have banned social media usage including WhatsApp when they could not effectively monitor the platform.

Awkwardly, as at May 2021, some of these countries include Syria, Iran, China and United Arab Emirates (UAE) and few others. However, it is possible for WhatsApp users to access the service in these countries using other alternatives, just like in the so-called Twitter ban.

For instance, Syrian government suspected that the enemy can plot against them using WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption policy. While in Iran, all possible messaging apps were blocked including WhatsApp for inability to break into the end-to-end encryption and its associated policy.

Potency of WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption:

ITREALMS gathered that when end-to-end is encrypted, “your messages, photos, videos, voice messages, documents, status updates and calls are secured from falling into the wrong hands.”

And so, many industry stakeholders especially social media enthusiasts have asked since the brouhaha about WhatsApp planned monitoring spirit by FG and what the end-to-end encryption portends.

As said by officials of WhatsApp headed by Mr. Chris Daniels as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), end-to-end encryption means keeping people safe on the social media app. Security, they noted, is essential to the service WhatsApp provides, hence they have seen multiple examples where criminal hackers illegally obtained vast sums of private data and abused technology to hurt people with their stolen information. Since completing the implementation of end-to-end encryption in 2016, digital security has become even more important.

WhatsApp, they said, has no ability to see the content of messages or listen to calls that are end-to-end encrypted, because the encryption and decryption of messages sent and received on WhatsApp occurs entirely on user’s device. Pointing out that before a message ever leaves “your device, it's secured with a cryptographic lock, and only the recipient has the keys.” In addition, officials said, the keys change with every single message that's sent, whereas all of this happens behind the scenes, stressing that users can confirm their conversations are protected by checking the security verification code on their devices.


What data says about WhatsApp ban?

From all indication, the WhatsApp end-to-end policy has been its ever-selling point which has earned the social media application the respect of many in the burgeoning technology adaptation.
Evidence are abound that even when some newer messaging platforms came on stream, there seems to be a massive migration initially for the sake of wave, but few months down the line, its evident that most of those on other messaging platforms like Telegram have since commenced return to WhatsApp.

Despite the ban, India remained the highest country per user of WhatsApp with over 340 million users. This, ITREALMS gathered from Statistic.com also is followed as second-ranked by Brazil with 99 million WhatsApp messenger users. Others within the top 10 WhatsApp users per country comprised the United States which came third with 68.1, Indonesia 59.9, Mexico 57.2, Russia 54.1, Germany 43.9, Italy 32.9, Spain 30.5 and United Kingdom 27.6 in that order as at 2019.

According to the Global State of Digital in 2019 report available to ITREALMS, WhatsApp is considered the most used social media platform in Nigeria with a record of at least 85 per cent of nation’s 24 million active social media users.

ITREALMS also gathered that the most used social media platforms in Nigeria as of the 3rd quarter of 2020 is WhatsApp with 93 per cent of the population on social media. The above strengthened the affirmation of the 2019 Global State of Digital report.

With the report of 3rd quarter of 2020 under review, ITREALMS gathered that WhatsApp leads in top 12 social media platforms used by Nigerians with 93 per cent, followed by Facebook 86, YouTube 81.6, Instagram 73.1, FB Messenger 67.2, Twitter 61.4, Telegram 56.3, LinkedIn 32.8, Tiktok 31.9, Snapchat 31.2, Pinterest 26.8 and Skype 12.1.

Conclusion:

What this means, some industry analysts said, is that ban on WhatsApp ultimately in Nigeria may not get the kind of or level of docility Twitter ban may have received even though there were some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) who took FG to court over Twitter prohibition, mostly regarding the denial of access, moreso from the citizenry whose businesses revolve around WhatsApp business. A replica of #EndSARS is envisaged.

Instead of waiting for the practical manifestation of purported monitoring of WhatsApp ban in Nigeria, they suggested that getting justice in Nigeria over a business transaction is further reduced to an unacceptable level if considered the role played by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami in the Twitter mess.

Noteworthy is that CSOs and consumer rights stakeholders in Nigeria seem to have taken the position of ‘sidon-look’ (a crossed finger) posture; while the government of the day is gradually tilting to dictatorship. This, some opined will spell doom for electorate enlightenment in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.

Yet for others, the discovery of this N4.8b in the 2021 supplementary budget for the monitoring of WhatsApp and possible purchase of some Thuraya satellite phones have come with sufficient notice time to enable stakeholders to fold their sleeves for a harder times are here again like in the days of NADECO, because even the media is pretty overwhelmed with one attempted regulation policy on one information tools or another every month. Despite a thousand social development items this amount could fetch for the citizen including fixing federal roads along Enugu-Onitsha Expressway.

It’s said that tough times do not last, but tough people do. For some, there is no pressure without diamonds. So, this tough time with APC regime will also pass away, definitely not without proactive push from the industry stakeholders.

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