The bill, which is in the legislative mill, also seeks to uphold 7 rights every Nigerian should enjoy online.
OrderPaperToday – Human rights are legitimate entitlements which all citizens are expected to enjoy without interference, fear, or intimidation from the government or other citizens.
David Kaluge, a human rights writer, notes that human rights are “rights which cannot be said to have been given to man by man but are earned by man for being a human because they are necessary for his continuous happy existence with himself, his fellow man and for participation in a complex society.”
Chapter Four of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, spells out the fundamental right of every citizen of Nigeria.
They include right to life; right to dignity of human person; right to personal liberty; right to fair hearing; right to private and family life; right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; right to freedom of expression at the press, right to peaceful assembly and association; right to freedom of movement, right to freedom from discrimination; right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.
However, many Nigerians do not realise that they should also enjoy fundamental human rights when using the online space. Consequently, the 8th National Assembly introduced the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill to provide for the protection of human rights online, protect internet users from infringement of their fundamental freedom and guarantee application of human rights for users of digital platforms or digital media.
The bill was passed by both chambers of the National Assembly. However, in March 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to the bill.
Buhari stated as reason for the decline of assent, that the Bill “covers too many technical subjects and fails to address any of them extensively”, listing such areas to include surveillance and digital protection, lawful interception of communication, digital protection and retention, among others, which he said “are currently the subject of various bills pending at National Assembly.”
He added that its scope poses a “challenge of duplication and legislative conflict in the future.'”
Subsequently, on April 18, 2019, a stakeholder roundtable was held in Abuja to evaluate the reasons why the president declined assent to the Bill. Consequently, the stakeholders, including NGOs/CSOs, Ministry of Justice, the Nigeria Communications Commission and others, came up with a revised version of the bill that addresses the concerns of the president.
The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, 2019, was then reintroduced in the parliament on 16th July, 2019.
The seven digital rights
The seven rights that every citizen of Nigeria should enjoy online as specified by the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, 2019 are highlighted below:
Right to digital privacy
The bill prohibits unlawful, unauthorised and undue interference with the online privacy of any citizen. Everyone is entitled to create and own online content and be responsible for it. Also, service providers are mandated to protect the privacy rights of consumers against violation by third parties and by the service providers themselves or their agents. Furthermore, every person is guaranteed the confidentiality of his/her personal data except in under certain special situations where the state may limit the right to privacy for the purposes of administration of criminal justice or prevention in compliance with provisions of the constitution with adequate safeguards against abuse.
Right to anonymity
Under this legislation, all Nigerians will have the right to access the internet and communicate electronically using tools that protect their anonymity and guards against the collection of personal data with a view to exercising civil and political freedoms without being subject to discrimination or censorship.
Restriction to this right may exist if there is need to protect a major public interest that is legal and in line with best democratic practises.
Right to freedom of expression
The bill ensures that all citizens have right to freely express their opinion online without restriction, except if such expressions violate the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended), the Freedom of Information Act (2011), or other relevant legislations.
The freedom of expression covers issues that may be regarded as critical or controversial by the government, its agencies or by a majority of the population.
The bill forbids inconsistent and abusive application of legislation to stifle criticism and debate on public issues and to foster a climate of fear and self-censorship among media houses and the general public.
Importantly, this bill prohibits the abuse of the freedom of expression online under the guise of protection of national security. All anti-terrorism laws, treason laws or similar provisions relating to national security have to conform to the constitution.
Right to access information
The bill guarantees the right of all citizens to access the internet for the purposes of gathering or sharing information, conducting business and/or expressing personal opinion. Under this legislation, it is unlawful for the government or any entity to deny or censor access to the internet without providing adequate and acceptable explanations.
The right to access information online is guaranteed for everyone, including persons with disabilities and persons belonging to ethnic minorities.
The act of blocking access to certain digital media such as social media; unlawful, unauthorised and undue restriction on media freedom and pluralism are all prohibited.
Only illegitimate contents like child pornography, hate speech, defamation, public incitement, racism, or religious hatred may be restricted.
Right to peaceful assembly and association
All citizens have the right to peaceful assembly and association online, including through social media platforms. The organisers and participants of such assemblies have the right to access the internet and other new technologies at all times, without interference except those which are provided by law and consistent with the Constitution for a legitimate purpose that is necessary and proportionate in a democracy.
Right to learn
Under the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, everyone has right a to learn online anywhere in Nigeria, irrespective of age, gender, race, social status, sexual orientation, economic status, state of origin, religion, bodily ability, or environment.
Right to student privacy
The privacy of students who study online is protected through this bill. The students have a right to know how data collected about their participation in the online system will be used by the organisation and made available to others. Clear explanations must be provided on the privacy implications of students’ choices.
Furthermore, online students will have the right to create and own intellectual property and data related to their participation in online courses.
In addition, students will have the right to know how their participation supports the financial health of the online system. They shall have the right to fairness, honesty, and transparent financial accounting even if the courses are free. Generally, there must be full explanations of the financial implications of students’ choices.
Also, students have the right to understand the intended outcomes of any online programme they are participating in.
A glimmer of hope for citizens
At a time when the controversial Social Media and Hate Speech Bills are causing significant anxiety among citizens, many Nigerians will be looking up to the National Assembly to pass the one bill that seeks to protects their rights and freedom online.