Nigeria may slap telcos N5m fine over unscreened calls

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Telecommunications operators in the country are to henceforth monitor and keep record of calls and other communications passing through their networks and must be ready to submit same to security agencies whenever the need arises.

According to ‘Lawful Interception Regulation,’ which has been gazetted by the Federal Government, failure to comply with this regulation by any of the operators attracts N5 million immediate fine and an additional daily N500,000 until compliance.

The gazetted document, a copy of which was obtained by our correspondent through the website of Nigerian Communications Commission, states that “the Commission may revoke the licence of a licensee in accordance with the provisions of section 45 of the NCC Act for failure to comply with these regulations.”

A draft of the regulation first came into light in 2013 and was strongly condemned by stakeholders, who felt it contradicted the mobile subscriber’s right to privacy as enshrined in the constitution. They also feared that such regulation would be subjected to abuse by government in power against opposition. However, the document showed that the regulation was gazetted by the Federal Government in January this year.

Nonetheless, industry analysts noted unlawful interception of communications have been going on in the country for years, adding that the gazetted regulations only gives it a legal backing.

Part two of the regulation drafted by NCC states: “It shall be lawful for any Authorised Agency listed in regulation 12(1) of these Regulations to intercept any Communication or pursuant to any legislation in force, where – (a) the interception relates to the use of a Communications service provided by a Licensee to persons in Nigeria; or (b) the interception relates to the use of a Communications Service provided by a Licensee to a person outside Nigeria.”

Warning licensed operators against contravention, NCC states in the regulation that “any person, Licensee or its officers that fail to comply with the provisions of these Regulations shall be liable to a fine of N5,000,000.00 and where such an offence is allowed to continue, such person, Licensee or any of its officers shall be liable to a daily default penalty of N500,000.00.”

The legal document further states that “every licensee shall take necessary steps as the commission may by way of notice direct from time to time, to install interception capabilities that allows or permits interception of communications.

“Notwithstanding any other law in force, no Licensee shall provide any communications services, which does not have the capacity to be monitored and intercepted”.

The law also compels all operators in the country to acquire all facilities or equipment needed to monitor calls at their own cost.

“Every Licensee shall, within such period as may be specified by the Commission, acquire all necessary facilities and devices to enable the monitoring of communications under these Regulations realisable. The investment, technical, maintenance and operating costs to enable the Licensee give effect to the provisions of these Regulations shall be borne by the Licensee,” it stated.

The legal document identifies the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA); State Security Services (SSS); and Nigeria Police Force as entities empowered to request a court warrant to access the intercepted data anytime the need arises.

“The execution of such warrant may, where required by any of the parties stated in paragraph (1) of this regulation, take place in the presence of the Licensee or person who manages the facilities of such Licensee.

“Licensees shall on a monthly basis or at such regular intervals as the Commission may from time to time specify, notify the Commission in writing of any such warrant executed on it or on any person who manages the facilities of such licensee,” the document noted.

On storage of the data collected from the operators, the document states that “Authorised Agency shall store any intercepted Communication retrieved from a licensee for the period of their investigation and shall be destroyed upon completion of such investigation.”

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