Internet Intermediary Liability in Nigeria: New legislation threatens internet freedom

By Maureen Nwobodo Publisher: APCNews    

Maureen Nwobodo, a Google policy fellow supporting APC’s work on intermediary liabilities from Nigeria, analyses how new legislation is using the private sector to police the flow of information online.

Many countries have made moves to make internet intermediaries (such as cybercafés, internet service providers and telecom operators) liable for the sort of content posted at their web-space/network by its users, thereby indirectly using them to police the flow of information. These practices, which have a negative impact in the users freedom of expression, information and association, are currently under debate in many African countries. If internet intermediaries are made liable for information shared by third parties on their network, the potential of the internet as a platform to access and produce information could be hampered.

In Nigeria the issue of intermediary liability has become increasingly pressing. Recently, text messages and phone calls were used to coordinate a bomb explosion in the country. As a result of the ensuing insecurity and unrest in the country, telecommunications companies, now almost as popular as Internet Service Providers, have come under greater scrutiny. This prompted discussions around the role of telecom service providers as intermediaries for planning violence and other illegal activities, and currently a new law is being proposed through the Telecommunications Facilities (Lawful Interception of Information) Bill 2010 at the House of Representatives in the Nigerian National Assembly.

Before the emergence of telecom operators as providers of internet services to the general public, cybercafés were the most available means of accessing the internet. But their vulnerability to criminal activities prompted the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to extend the parameter of its work to include the raid of cybercafés that were suspected to be havens for cybercriminals and putting into place provisions that threatened clients privacy and burdened owners with costly administrative practices.

A further measure affecting internet intermediaries is the proposed Copyright Amendment bill, which previously included a limitation of liability clause. The bill would introduce liability to intermediaries and also oblige intermediaries to police copyright infringement without making provisions for appeals by people who are accused of breach. The bill may also put cybercafés at risk of disconnection of service for copyright infringements by their patrons, such as downloading and sharing. With regards to enforcement, the bill indicates that the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) may have a major role to play.

Should this bill become law, it might seriously impact the ability of Nigerians to access and share information on the internet, and would counteract positive developments, such as the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI)3 in 2011. At the moment, the Copyright Amendment bill is still in its early days. Intermediaries, content owners and the general public still have time to take part in debate and advocacy which will determine the final form of the bill.

APC is currently working with Paradigm Initiative Nigeria on a project to support this public discussion. The project will contribute to ensuring access to information by creating two guides on intermediary liability: a ‘need to know’ guide for the media and other content producers to help them understand and navigate internet intermediary liability in African contexts and a ‘best practice’ guide for ISPs and internet regulators to aid in drafting internet intermediary laws. APC will also be hosting events to stimulate discussion, which will be shared and circulated widely as the project continues.

Photo by Yishay Mor via Flickr


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