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Niger Republic’s communications Bill stirs controversy

Africa , 12 Jun 2020

International civil society organisation Privacy International (PI) has called for the repeal of the Interception of Communication Bill, currently under consideration by lawmakers within Niger Republic.

Critics said the proposed legislation lacks prior judicial authorisation, does not have independent judicial oversight, can be used to compel telecommunications services providers to assist (without the option to challenge any penalties incurred by a refusal) and makes it impossible for targeted individuals to hold authorities accountable for surveillance activities or to enforce their right to privacy.

In a statement, the organisation said the combination of this Bill and the country’s 2019 cybercrime law could see people prosecuted for expressing themselves freely even within private safe spaces.

The cybercrime law, enacted in 2019, makes it an offence for any individual to disseminate, generate or make available to other persons information likely to upset public order.

With reference to the latest Bill, PI stated: “The law does not require the government to balance the benefits of intercepting a person’s communications against the cost to that person’s privacy, thereby depriving the right to privacy of any real meaning. The law would see the Nigerien state treating individuals whose communications are targeted as guilty until proven innocent.”

One hundred and four members of parliament (out of 171) voted in support of the Bill, while opposition members boycotted the process and said the legislation makes it legal for the government “to monitor all Nigeriens, as well as all those who live in Niger, under false pretences, other than those relating to security and the fight against terrorism”.

Opposition lawmakers affirmed: “The interception of correspondence from citizens, even authorised by law, must be the exception, and above all motivated by heavy presumptions about an individual.”

In response the government said the Bill reconciles exercise of individual’s freedom with the imperatives of national security in the country’s fight against terrorism and organised crime.

Niger’s Minister of Justice Marou Amadou said: "People's private lives, their working relationships and their professional activities will not be affected.”

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