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Nigeria's planned satellites worry digital rights group

Nigeria's planned satellites worry digital rights group

ICT advocacy group, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) has called on the Nigerian government to shed more light on plans to build and launch two satellites, one of which a media report quoting inside sources at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) says has "eavesdropping capabilities."

According to an NCC insider source quoted in the report, "What this means is that things like voice calls, video calls, e-mails can be captured."

PIN's Executive Director Gbenga Sesan said not much information is available on the planned satellite launch except that it will set Nigeria back by US$10 billion, and that one of the satellites is expected to have the capability to "capture signals from all telecommunication installation in areas it is tasked to cover".

He adds: "Nigeria currently has 2 satellites (Nigeria Sat 2 and Nigeria Sat X) that came after the ill-fated Nigeria Sat 1 that was allegedly "parked in space", and while the space agency always talks about using satellites for "security, delineating electoral constituency, agriculture, climate change, mitigation of disaster and environmental monitoring," there isn't much proof that such have been done excellently well so far. For us, technology should support socio-economic opportunities and not threaten (digital) rights."

In the Group's letter to the Minister of Communications on 2 February, PIN wants the government to provide all the details involved in the building and launching of the two new satellites so that every stakeholder, including the Ministry, would be able to act as watchdogs for the digital rights of citizens - in order to ensure that the scaling up of the number of satellites in space is done with utmost regard to these rights.

PIN's Director of Programs, Tope Ogundipe notes in a release that suggestions about these satellites' capability to eavesdrop on the communications of most Nigerians would "be an erosion on the fundamental human rights guaranteed by Section 37 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). With this belief, we are sure that these published allegations are just what they are and contain no truth."

Sesan also told ITWeb Africa that they expect the ministry to respond to their Freedom of Information-backed request within seven days to hopefully deny the allegation with proof showing that there is no such plan to eavesdrop on the private conversation of Nigerians as it will be illegal, unconstitutional and an abuse of new technologies.

He added, "It is important for them to confirm that no such eavesdropping action is being planned for a number of reasons, including the fact that it violates Section 37 of the Nigerian constitution; it represents an abuse of the trust placed by tax-paying citizens that their resources will be used for their own good, and not against them; it demonstrates the tendency of the current administration to return Nigeria to 1984 and dictatorship; it takes Nigeria back to 2013 when the previous administration wasted money on surveillance equipment which is not known to have been helpful for the alleged purpose of national security at the time; and it is important because the Freedom of Information Act empowers us to make such requests and get answers within 7 days."

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