Human Rights in Digital Age

Human Rights in Digital Age

The General Assembly on 27th of March 2006 endorsed the outcomes of the World Summit for the Information Society (WSIS), which concluded in Tunisia on November 16-18, 2005, welcoming the strong development orientation and the progress achieved towards a multi-stakeholder approach to building a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society - this resolution confirmed the world moving from Industrial Age to Information/Digital Age.

We are in an era of intense societal transformation and disruption brought about by the fast development of digital communication infrastructure and exponential acceptance of digital technology. Protection of human rights in achieving peace in Nigeria and in other places depends on our ability to convey how to apply enduring human rights principles in the digital environment.

Digital technology has transformed the means through which human rights are both protected and violated not only in Nigeria but also around the world. The Internet has become an essential instrument for the realization of human rights and for accelerating political and economic development. But daily, we have seen cases of human rights violations in Nigeria, across Africa and in the world – whether through internet shutdown, government surveillance or attack on press freedom. Indeed 2016 can be described as the year of internet shutdown in Africa, as at December 2016, we had seen eleven incidents of network disruptions and/or Internet (applications) shutdowns across the continent, for reasons as diverse as to prevent examination malpractice, citizens’ protests, unofficial dissemination of election results and promulgation of hate speech online.

Advances in information communication technology are dramatically improving real-time communication and information-sharing. By improving access to information and facilitating global debate, they foster democratic participation. By amplifying the voices of human rights defenders and helping to expose abuses, these powerful technologies offer the promise of improved enjoyment of human rights.

But at the same time it has become clear that these new technologies are vulnerable to electronic surveillance and interception. Recent discoveries have revealed how new technologies are being developed covertly, often to facilitate these practices, with frightening efficiency. Such surveillance threatens individual rights – including right to privacy, to peace and to freedom of expression and association – and inhibits the free functioning of a vibrant civil society.

According to the 2017 digital rights in Africa reports published by Paradigm Initiative, the wave of Internet shutdowns increased significantly in 2016 and also continued in 2017 which saw widespread attacks on press freedom across Africa, and pushback by citizens and organizations against governments’ digital rights abuses. Although 2017 witnessed Internet shutdowns in several African countries and state sponsored attacks on press freedoms, it is also important not to lose sight of the demonstration of the power of citizens to push back at repressive actions of governments directed at violating their rights to privacy, Internet access and freedom of expression. The changing target of arrests of citizens exercising their right to freedom of expression also came to the fore. In 2016 there were widespread arrests of ordinary citizens for exercising their right to freedom of expression online, while in 2017, journalists – including bloggers – became the major targets across the continent.

Section 37 of the Nigerian Constitution guaranteed the right to privacy of all citizens; the section states that “The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected”. Despite the increasingly important role that data plays as the digital crude oil of the country’s emerging digital economy, Nigeria does not have a Data Privacy or Data Protection law.

Several government agencies including but not limited to Nigerian Communications Commission, Independent National Electoral Commission, Nigerian Immigration Service, Central Bank of Nigeria, National Identity Management Commission, Federal Road Safety Corps regularly collect citizens’ private data with little or no regards to their rights. Apart from collecting their data, citizens has no control over the information collected, its use and how to seek redress if there is an abuse of their personal data.

Up till moment, Nigeria has no data protection law and no strong data management policies in place. Advocacy around data protection and privacy issue has little effect on the citizens and various legislative proposals that could protect people’s data are making little progress, exposing citizens to the real risk of data disasters, breach and abuse. The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill which is to protect the rights of citizens in digital Age not assent to by the President.

We, as individuals and citizens cannot afford to go to sleep; we must be involved and rise up to the defense of digital rights. The right to privacy is also recognized by the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, which states "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence."

Even right on its own is Internet access for all citizens. When you consider that nearly one in five people still don't have access to electricity, more than one in ten are under-nourished and some 80 million don't even have access to clean water, arguing for internet access as a fundamental human right, on the face of it seems like a massive case trying to run before one can walk. Few would argue that internet access is anywhere near as high a priority as any of these. But if we are serious about putting in place the infrastructure, education and economic opportunities which will help meet these basic needs it's pretty clear that in the 21st century, internet access is central to each.

Government and international organizations must begin to support human rights education initiatives, NGOs/CSOs must seek new ground to collaborate with necessary stakeholders in achieving a peaceful and secure Nigeria. We have ECOWAS secretariat, National Assembly complex as useful facilities to start educating and orientating our young ones on human rights frameworks and principles. The National Human Rights Commission should not just rely on addressing human rights abuse alone, but also invest in prevention which include educating and supporting human rights focus initiatives at all level. Let begin to have in our higher institutions Model United Nations, Model ECOWAS and the likes.

Peter Adeleye is the National Coordinator, African Centre for Citizens Orientation