The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami has denied the reports that the Nigerian government is arbitrarily using personal data of citizens in the fight against Covid-19.
In a statement signed by Dr. Femi Adeluyi, Technical Assistant (Information Technology) to the
Minister, Pantami described the reports as devious schemes perpetrated by some unscrupulous persons claiming they have access to personal data of Nigerians such as SIM databases, bank verification numbers or any other personal records of Nigerians.
While noting the concerns of well-meaning stakeholders on the privacy implications of government’s legitimate use of private data to check the spread of COVID-19, the Minister disclosed that for the avoidance of doubt, neither the Ministry nor any organ of the Federal Government directed that any such database be shared to any person for any purpose other than the legitimate, statutory purpose they were collected for.
He urged the general public to disregard any information from any group or individuals seeking to confirm or collect personal records for any purpose, stressing that the Federal Government will never ask citizens to confirm their records via phone calls or digital means without an elaborate structure to ensure the safety of these records and effective communication to the public in this regard.
To this end, the statement explained has directed the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) as the custodian of the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR), to issue a comprehensive framework to guide public institutions on the lawful processing of personal data for public and vital interests such as public health, welfare, security and related matters.
Part of the statement reads, “The Ministry notes the concerns of our well-meaning stakeholders on the possibility of privacy infringement in the use of private data to combat COVID-19.
The government’s ultimate purpose in its fight against COVID-19 is to minimise direct and collateral damages. In the face of the threat to life arising from public health, hunger and security factors, Nigeria like every progressive society is utilizing its digital assets and infrastructure to tackle the pandemic and its effects. Every use of private data is strictly for the promotion of the security and welfare of Nigerians. Any unlawful disclosure, abuse or misuse of private data constitutes a criminal offence, punishable under the laws of Nigeria.”
The Minister, therefore, encourage all regulators or institutions that utilise personal data for the public good to prioritise information and cybersecurity, compliance with the NDPR and other laws relating to personal data processing is mandatory for public and private organisations. All data controlling organisations are further expected to provide a means for efficient public communication across all platforms available throughout this period to respond to public inquiries and comments.