" ITREALMS: Telecoms Clinic: Digital knocks for NITDA’s Code of practice - ITREALMS

Monday, July 25, 2022

Telecoms Clinic: Digital knocks for NITDA’s Code of practice - ITREALMS

Features@ITREALMS ... making leadership SENSE with digital news!
Following the release of draft Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms cum Internet Intermediaries and Conditions for Operating in Nigeria by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), REMMY NWEKE, examines the reactions of stakeholders since its proclamation.
Telecoms Clinic @ITREALMS
NITDA and President Buhari’s directive:
About June 13, 2022, the management of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) issued a Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries and Conditions for Operating in Nigeria with a mandate allegedly aligned with the Section 6 of the NITDA Act 2007; to standardize, coordinate and develop regulatory frameworks for all Information Technology (IT) practices in Nigeria.

NITDA also alleged that in accordance with its mandates, Mr. President, General Muhammadu Buhari, retired, had directed them to develop above ‘Code of Practice’ which stakeholders nicknamed “NITDA Code of Practice 2022 for online platforms, in collaboration with relevant regulatory agencies and stakeholders, which has been revealed to include the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) under the guess of "Authorised Government Agency" as well as inputs from Interactive Computer Service Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Google, and Tik Tok to name a few. Other relevant stakeholders with peculiar knowledge in this area, NITDA claimed were consulted such as Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and expert groups, thus, results of the consultations were duly incorporated into the draft Code of Practice as proclaimed.

Is NITDA protecting fundamental human rights?
NITDA’s Code of Practice, the agency claimed, is aimed at protecting fundamental human rights of Nigerians and non-Nigerians living in the country as well as define guidelines for interacting on the digital ecosystem. This is in line with international best practices as obtainable in democratic nations such as the United State of America, United Kingdom, European Union, and United Nations.
Also, NITDA noted, new global reality is that the activities conducted on these online platforms wield enormous influence over “our society, social interaction, and economic choices.” Hence, the Code of Practice is an intervention to re-calibrate the relationship of online platforms with Nigerians in order to maximise mutual benefits for the country, while promoting a sustainable digital economy.

Between accountability and gagging of new media:
NITDA’s Code of Practice, in addition supposedly sets out procedures to safeguard the security and welfare of Nigerians while interacting on these platforms as way of demanding accountability from online platforms regarding unlawful and harmful contents on their platforms. Stressing, it was established as a robust framework for collaborative efforts to protect Nigerians against online harms, such as hate speech, cyber-bullying, as well as disinformation and/or misinformation.

Similarly, NITDA said that to ensure compliance with the Code of Practice, “wishes to notify all Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries operating in Nigeria that the Federal Government of Nigeria has set out conditions for operating in the country. These conditions address issues around legal registration of operations, taxation, and managing prohibited publication in line with Nigerian laws.

Conditions for Interactive Online Platforms:
NITDA went on to outline some conditions to include “Establish a legal entity i.e., register with Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC); Appoint a designated country representative to interface with Nigerian authorities; Abide by all regulatory demands after establishing a legal presence; Comply with all applicable tax obligations on its operations under Nigerian law; Provide a comprehensive compliance mechanism to avoid publication of prohibited contents and unethical behaviour on their platform; and Provide information to authorities on harmful accounts, suspected botnets, troll groups, and other coordinated disinformation networks and deleting any information that violates Nigerian law within an agreed time.

FG’s social media regulation through backdoor:
Despite claims of having inputs from CSOs, bulk of knocks arising from the ‘controversial’ NITDA’s Code of Practice, it has continued to generally seen as a spoon for censureship from media stakeholders and civil society organisations, including the Media Rights Agenda, Newspapers Proprietors association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), and International Press Centre (IPC) met a week later on June 21 in Lagos, reiterated commitment of media stakeholders on self-regulation as most appropriate framework to effectively guarantee media freedom and independence.

They eventually set up a committee to review all reports of various committees before now to review the laws guiding the practice, the profession and the business of the media as a guide to a final position.

Then came the Coalition for Whistleblower Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF) in a communique available to 
ITREALMS few days after NITDA’s Code of Practice surfaced, denouncing it against claims as a fitting mechanism for fighting disinformation and misinformation, and described the code of practice as a desperate attempt to breach the fundamental rights of citizens to express themselves and shrink dissent - similar to the Twitter ban enforced by the government as an aftermath of the #EndSARS protest, in addition to being a backdoor way of regulating the media with subtle attempts to criminalize certain “unclearly defined” internet activities that are not in compliance with the code.

ITREALMS gathered that the 11-page document was segmented into the objectives, and six parts that made up the supposed code of conduct and practice, which led to the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) holding a TweetChat with NITDA officials, newsrooms editors, lawyers, media development professionals, journalists, CSOs, and internet users to discuss and clarify issues with regards to the new draft.

Contradiction: Between NITDA and NDPR?
CJID summary was that NITDA’s Code of Practice is a threat to freedom of expression, an opaque definition of unlawful content which needs a wider industry consultation without detailed provision for child protection, violation of privacy policy as they wondered who defines moralty and what qualifies as state public interest?

They equally cited the violation of privacy policy for instance, CJID noted that some parts of the code violated data and privacy policy of users, noting that Part II (Section 4) of the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR), stated that the platform shall preserve a disabled or removed content and any related record as required by law. Just as Part II (Section 6), stated can “preserve any information concerning a person that is no longer a user of a platform due to withdrawal or termination of registration, or for any other reason, as required by law.” This, CSOs noted, contradicted the right to erasure which is an internet standard practice protected under Section 3.1(9) of the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation, which guarantees the rights to have personal data erased as long as there is compliance with grounds provided by the regulation.

Whereas, they noted that, "Part III [Section 5] states that on demand users would provide government agencies with information. This violates Section 37 of the Nigeria constitution that guarantees and protects the right of Nigerians to privacy in their homes, correspondence, telecommunication and telegraphic communication. This also violates the Cyber Crime Act which criminalises data privacy breaches and prescribes that anyone or service provider in possession of any person’s personal data shall take appropriate measures to safeguard such data. Part II [Section 6] of the code violates the right to erasure which is an internet standard practice protected under the Section 3.1(9) of the NDPR Act, which guarantee the rights to have personal data erased, the user's "right to be forgotten."

GOCOP rejects NITDA’s Code:
In view of forgoing, the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP) in forward looking and self-regulatory organisation that has an Ombudsman that cater for any for any misdemeanor of members and take up grievances of the public; came out powerfully to reject the NITDA’s Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries as it clearly served to undermine the media, describing it as yet another attempt by the Buhari’s government to gag the media and suppress press freedom generally.

A communique made available to 

ITREALMS by the GOCOP President, Maureen Chigbo and Secretary-General, Mr. Collins Edomaruse, they resolved in addition that NITDA’s Code, is a fresh move to gag the media both reprehensible and repugnant as it shows the desperation of the Federal Government to muzzle free press. GOCOP, recalled that the government had failed in the past in its desperation to enact anti-free press laws including the protection from Internet Falsehoods and Manipulation and Other Related Matters Bill, 2019, commonly known as ‘Social Media Bill.’

They reminded APC’s Federal Government that rode to power on the crest of free press, especially as it took advantage of the social media, which it now wants to render prostrate, insisting that GOCOP strongly rejects the NITDA Practice Code in its entirety, because “It is a baseless affront on the constitutional powers vested in the media.” Even as they went on to urge the federal government to jettison the NITDA Code and rely on existing regulations such as the Cybercrime Act, Laws of Defamation, Libel and Privacy to protect itself and citizens against any perceived unprofessional journalistic conduct.

Despite the conversations and feed-backs so far on the NITDA’s Code of Practice, aside the fact of availing the public an opportunity to give constructive input and voice their concerns on perceived gray areas on the code, with the hope the federal government, through NITDA, will use the responses received to go back to the drawing board and address the concerns raised by citizens.

Pertinent, therefore is that NITDA should collaborate with the Nigeria Orientation Agency (NOA) and media houses, specifically the likes of GOCOP with professional membership above 80 among others; to invest in digital education and hygiene in online space, for the purpose of keeping or making the Nigeria Internet space safe.

Since it was stated that the released code is still in a draft stage, there is a need for NITDA to collaborate with media houses and communicate to the public through a press release/press conference that the released document is a draft and not yet an act as largely purported.

Also, policy environment is important to be set right proactively than setting the tone for reactionaries, just as experts advised that in the context of making this code, it is always crucial to consider the environment. Thus far, stakeholders posited that the environment has been more hostile towards the need to control social media and there are trust issues within the polity, even with the timely purposely to shutdown voices for election gains.

Additionally, NITDA should consult with CSOs, media houses and personnel's to understand, properly draft and agree on such a bill that should be sent to parliament for an all-inclusive input when the need arises to keep the Nigeria internet space safe without infringing on the rights of users or impeding on the ease of doing business, and not conflict with fundamentally guaranteed rights within national and international laws.

ITREALMS recalls that a few countries that have laws regarded social media in Europe and Asia all do so through the instrumentality of statutes, not through bye laws or agency backed regulations because of the complexity of issues involved.

Though NITDA’s objectives could be laudable but the route leaves more to desire and raises dust of suspicion, hence, its advisable that mandatory right approach of achieving such via an act of legislation by the National Assembly be adopted.

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