Senate Begins Cybercrime Act 2015 Amendment Process

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The Nigerian Senate on Wednesday formally commenced the process of amending the Cybercrime Act 2015 as part of ongoing collective efforts to improve the security of the nation’s cyber space for information sharing across the broad spectrum of the nation fast-evolving digital economy.

Speaking at the one-day public hearing on the Cybercrime (Prohibition and Prevention) Act (Amendment) Bill, 2023 at the Senate Complex, Abuja, the Senate President, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, lamented that over the years the country had suffered financial losses as a result of cybercrime fraudsters.

Akpabio, who was represented by the Senate Leader, Sen. Opeyemi Bamidele, harped on the need to establish a comprehensive legal framework to deter, investigate, pursue and prosecute cyber criminals.

According to him, it has become imperative to strengthen the existing laws on cybercrime prohibition and prevention in view of technological advancements globally, adding that some criminals are taking advantage of the loopholes in the existing legislations to harm individuals, businesses and the nation’s economy.

The lawmaker said: “In this age of rapid technological advancement and widespread internet usage, cybercrime has emerged as a grave menace to our society, economy and personal security. In the past, certain individuals with misguided intentions exploited our weak cybercrime laws, thereby tarnishing the reputation of our country.

“They engaged in a wide array of illegal activities, such as hacking, identity theft, fraud, harassment and cyber terrorism. These crimes not only inflicted significant financial losses upon our country, but also invaded our privacy, disrupted critical infrastructure, and eroded trust in our digital systems”, he added..

While canvassing the need for improved funding for cybersecurity technologies and solutions to protect Nigeria’s digital economy, Akpabio expressed concern about the dire consequences for the country if all stakeholders, particularly the governments, continue to treat issues relating to national cybersecurity with levity.

Earlier, in his opening remarks, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on ICT and Cyber Security, Sen. Shuaib Salisu, spoke on the imperative of amending the Cybercrime (Prohibition and Prevention) Act (Amendment) Bill 2023, in view of the benefits to all.

The Committee’s chairman, who urged stakeholders at the public hearing to bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and diverse perspectives on cybercrime to bear on the discussions at the event, pointed out that the public hearing was intended to enhance the effectiveness of the law by addressing emerging threats and strengthening existing provisions.

He pointed out that cybersecurity “is a complex and multidimensional challenge that requires a collaborative effort among the government, industry, civil society and academia.”

The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in its presentation advocated the amendment of Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act, 2015, arguing that the provisions of the Section undermine freedom of expression and press freedom.

Represented by Comrade Jide Oyekunle, who is the Chairman of NUJ FCT Correspondents Chapel, the Union highlighted how members had been harassed, arrested and detained using provisions of Section 24 of the Act.

Oyekunle stressed Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act is incongruous with the provisions of Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which grants freedom of expression and of the press.

He said: “The law was enacted based on the understanding that threats to information and communication technology are a danger to Nigeria’s national security, affecting the country’s “economic, political, and social fabric.

“It is however unfortunate that the political class deliberately manipulated the provisions of the law to police journalists, criminalise journalism, thereby suppressing freedom of expression and thoughts. This they do in abandonment of the primary objectives the act is set to achieve.

“Authorities have attempted to silence opposition views in the online media through arbitrary interpretation and abuse of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition and Prevention) Act, 2015, particularly Section 24.

“The government and other powerful entities have hidden behind the accusation of cyberstalking to harass and press charges against online and traditional journalists for expressing views that are considered unfavourable.

“Section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act is incongruous with the provisions of Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution as amended which grants freedom of expression and of the press. To continue to retain Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act is inimical to our democratic rights as citizens,” Oyekunle stressed.

Similarly, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Sen. Shehu Umar, who is the main sponsor of the bill, expressed concerns about the alarming rate of exploitation and growing threats of cybercriminals to all sectors of the Nigerian economy.

While noting that the high cases of cybercrime has made it urgent to review the country’s law, the lawmaker maintained that current provisions were not effective in combating cybercrimes efficiently.

He expatiated: “Prioritisation of funding for cybersecurity should be a matter of national urgency in the category as the national food security emergency recently declared by His Excellency, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

“If the National Cybersecurity Programme is not effectively funded, the gains of the digital economy will be defeated. There is an urgent need for the country to amend the country cybercrime law.

“The current provisions handicapped the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigeria Police to do their work effectively.

“If we must survive as a federation, the current weak approach to enforcing national cyber security directives must be examined and prioritised among other considerations. Currently, EFCC, ICPC, NITDA, CBN, and Nigeria Police funding concentrates on fighting cybercrime activities based on their limited Act,” Umar added,

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), in its presentation at the public hearing, claimed that Nigeria was losing $500 million dollars annually to all forms of cybercrime including hacking, identity theft, cyber terrorism, harassment and Internet fraud.

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