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Friday, December 8, 2023

Hiding under safe city surveillance project, FG spent billion dollars monitoring media, activists, ‘troublesome’ citizens –Report

A research report issued today by the Institute of Development Studies and the African Digital Rights Network states that Nigeria is Africa’s largest customer of surveillance technology contracts aimed at scrutinizing her citizens.

The report shows how the country had spent millions of dollars on the contracts from 2013 till 2022.

It says Nigeria had spent nothing less than about $2.7bn, equivalent of $12 per Nigerian citizen, within the years indicated.

The report, according to the document, is the first comprehensive study revealing the scale of surveillance technology also being used by governments in other African countries namely Ghana, Malawi, Zambia and Morocco. Other countries doing same are the USA, China, UK, EU, all being supplied by unnamed Israel-based companies.

Noting that the surveillance technology had actually been used to spy on nonviolent protesters, opposition politicians and journalists while handpicking such for harassment, arrest and torture, in violation of international human rights law and supplier companies’ own self-policing measures; the researchers reveal that Nigeria is a leading customer of every major surveillance technology they studied, including internet and mobile and internet interception, social media monitoring, biometric ID data and the so-called ‘safe city’ monitoring of citizens in public spaces.

They also found that the Nigerian state permits far more government agencies to conduct surveillance than the other countries studied and has contracts with each of the leading surveillance technology suppliers based in the US, China, EU, UK and Israel.

The report editor, Tony Roberts, who is also a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, said: “The research in Nigeria found contracts worth billions of dollars, nonetheless, that’s just a fraction of what the true cost would be.

“Also, beyond the financial cost, surveillance tech is creating huge personal costs for journalists and activists, or regular citizens, unjustly tracked, arrested and detained – and often tortured – for just posting a message on social media,” Roberts notes.

Tagged ‘Mapping the Supply of Surveillance Technologies to Africa’, the report is issued at a time of increasing unease about the checks and balances for the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in terms of the fears of its potential for misuse by increasingly authoritarian governments.

And while the report calls for the abolition of rights-violating surveillance technologies and for the defunding of mass surveillance of citizens, it notes that in Lagos and Abuja, Chinese companies, Huawei and ZTE, already provide safe city surveillance products for the Nigerian Government using extensive Closed-circuit Television (CCTV) camera surveillance with facial and car number plate recognition.

Tony Roberts, also noted: “Governments and companies supplying the surveillance technologies are getting away with flouting international treaties and their own self-policing measures. We currently have a ‘wild west’ of surveillance supply, where the few rules that are in place are not being followed.

“Currently, states are using surveillance technologies to create a chilling effect to suppress civil society and freedom of expression.

“To combat this, we urgently need action to establish robust legal frameworks to protect the human rights of citizens, and restrict the export of surveillance products,” he added.

Joke Kujenya
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