As conversations about supposed plans by the Nigerian government to implement internet surveillance on citizens heat up, the PR machinery of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has come out to deny reports that the government is investing in this. In a report by Nigerian Telegraph, Sylvanus Ehikioya, Director, New Media and Information Security, NCC, said:
“Nigeria is not a police state and government is not considering carrying out surveillance on its citizens. The freedom of expression of its citizens as guaranteed by the constitution is sacrosanct. Government is not interested in spying on her citizens but government is interested in doing what is right to ensure that citizens are free to use the Internet and is safe in doing so.”
That is all well and good, but contradicts what the Information Minister, Labaran Maku seemed to have been trying to say recently. Here is Maku:
“Everywhere in the world, e-mails are seen by government. Even, the world super-power, America, spies on citizens’ mails to checkmate the activities of unscrupulous elements capable of threatening its internal security…. There’s no government all over the world that is uninterested in what comes in and goes out of its territorial boundaries.”
Who do we believe? Labaran Maku seemed to have been saying that the Nigerian government – like any other governement – is interested in what we do online. Personally, whenever government comes out to assure citizens that there is nothing to worry about, that is the time to start worrying.
Meanwhile…. the Crux of the Matter
Every time that I write about personal privacy and security, there are always people who reply with the popular mantra, “If you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t worry about snooping.” My last article on the subject, Let’s talk telephone and online privacy, saw responses along the same line. It sounds so good, but it is the product of naive thinking. Gbenga Sesan of PIN has been speaking actively about issues surrounding the moves by the Federal Government of Nigeria to implement surveillance systems in place to monitor all forms of electronic communications in the country. He tweeted this earlier today:
An increasingly popular narrative, "if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn't worry about snooping," needs to be met with superior argument
— 'Gbenga Sesan (@gbengasesan) June 18, 2013
I began writing this article and then ran into a response by someone to Gbenga’s tweet:
@gbengasesan longer: you can not trust that non-criminal but sensitive info can be used to owner's detriment in countless ways
— S.B. (@Seyoyo) June 18, 2013
Succint. Personal, sensitive information in the hands of others besides the owner can be used in very creative, even spectacular, ways. It is not as simple as “If I have nothing to hide, I shouldn’t be bothered about privacy.”
Here is a glaring example: I have sex with my wife. She is my wife, so I have nothing to hide about sleeping with her. Yet, what goes on in the bedroom (or kitchen, or on the ironing board) between the two of us is not for the consumption of anyone else besides the two of us. This example is to highlight my point – that I have nothing to hide does not mean that I have nothing to worry about with regards surveillance or snooping.
The average human being is opportunistic and untrustworthy. I cannot trust my sensitive information to unknown faces – people sitting behind masks. That is the crux of this privacy debate. Whether or not a man has something to hide, he is entitled to personal privacy.
What To Do?
Errrr….besides getting off the internet, wiping your identity and starting a new life, I think that all you can do is just adjust to the fact that you are being monitored. If you use social media extensively, or a service that synchronises or backs up your SMS and other personal info, forget the idea of privacy. Jesse put this question to Fred this morning. Fred’s response is on point:
— FRED MCCLIMANS (@fredmcclimans) June 19, 2013
That is the conclusion of the matter. *Inserts DVD into home theatre, selects Maleek Berry and WizKid’s collabo track, “The Matter,” and puts chorus on repeat*:
Oya back to the matter, Open and close
Touch your toes, Baby oya yo di
Live. Breath. Be happy, folks; you are on Big Brother Live!