Govt needs to harmonise all ICT Acts, says iSON Group scribe

by Frank Uzuegbunam

January 30, 2018 | 12:32 am
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RAGHVENDRA VERMA is the Group Head- Legal and Company Secretary at iSON Group. In this interview with Frank Uzuegbunam, he talks about harmonisation of all ICT Acts, what government can do to encourage the ease of doing business for IT and ITes companies, amongst other issues. Excerpts:

Recently, there have been calls on the federal law makers in Nigeria to come up with a Bill on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) that will harmonise all ICT Acts that are currently in silos. Do you think the Bills need to be harmonized, and why?

Yes, we are of the view that the ICT bills need to be harmonised as it is assumed this would bring all relevant/applicable provisions of ICT laws and regulations under one legal instrument.  This would make compliance with such ICT laws and regulations easier, rather than the need to constantly review several different laws on ICT which may give rise to inadvertent failure to comply with such laws.

In addition, there is a need to address the uncertainty in the ICT sector which has given rise to apprehension amongst investors and stakeholders, especially with regards to the conflicting laws.

The Bills awaiting assent include the following: The Computer Security and Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Bill 2005; Cyber Security and Data protection Agency Bill 2008; Electronic Fraud Prohibition Bill 2008; The Nigerian Computer Security and Protection Agency Bill 2009; The Computer Misuse Bill 2009; and The Electronic Transaction Bill 2011.

Not only would it increase private sector participation in ICT infrastructure building, it would also help to ensure that the sector contributes more to nation building.

It is well known that most Nigerian consumer laws were made before the growth in the internet, and in most cases, never considered or contemplated the differences that exist between the online and offline environment. As a result, consumer protection agencies and governmental bodies with consumer protection functions are ill-equipped to deal with the myriad of issues that arise when carrying out online transactions.

We are therefore of the opinion that harmonising the ICT laws would go a long way in ensuring consistency in, and resolving the challenges confronting the sector.

Nigeria’s critical national data has been threatened by global cyber war. How will harmonisation of all ICT Acts help Nigeria fortify its cyberspace?

There are many aspects to protecting Nigeria’s critical national data –it encapsulates the private information of its citizens, data that would affect the business, economy and finance. There has been a recent occurrence of viruses that are designed to cripple national and international networks or IT systems of companies. The harmonisation of all the laws would bring laws designed to protect against such activities and punish those engaged in such activities under one law, making it easier for law enforcement agencies to enforce the laws in a more effective and efficient manner.

To explain this with more clarity, the various laws in existence have equal footing and provide for different scenarios. As a result, when there are contradicting provisions in varying laws covering aspects of the same sector, the arising issue is which should take precedence when there is a conflict?

For example, the matter of jurisdiction –where one law gives a particular court or government agency oversight or jurisdiction, and another gives another court or agency oversight or jurisdiction a problem arises. For instance, taking into consideration the existing overlapping functions of the National Information Technology Development Agency and the Nigerian Communications Commission (“NCC”) there is still an unanswered question about which body would be more appropriate to monitor information communication technology in Nigeria (even though the NCC is clearly the more well-known and accepted of the two).

To address the digital security challenges in the country’s cyberspace and the nation’s slow adoption of technology by corporate entities, what legislations does Nigeria need to enforce?

The legislation currently in existence is quite sufficient – the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act 2015 is relatively detailed. However, one suggestion would be for the monitoring and oversight functions to be conducted more effectively. The technology used in Nigeria is generally known to be obsolete. This makes it difficult to monitor compliance and any infractions. In addition, even where these are discovered, although the penalties are generally in line with economic realities, there are limited ways to enforce them.

The success in the digital domain and platform-centric battlefield, is speed- enabled intellectual property wealth creation in cyberspace. How can these properties be protected?

The scope of protection given by the various intellectual property right laws in Nigeria appears to sufficiently cover works accessed and infringed upon via ICT, however, there is a need for workable systems of online licensing, and reliance on technological methods such as encryption, passwords, fingerprinting, copy proof compact disc that prevent CD’s from being played on computer disc drives, to protect intellectual property rights from infringement via communication technology such as the internet. Intellectual property right holders should be able to detect and stop the dissemination of unauthorized digital copies of their work, which is now done with unimaginable speed.

In addition, the intellectual property laws need to be revised and updated, given that software programs can currently only be protected by copyright laws as literary works. In other countries, such IP rights can be patented. There is a proposed bill which would allow IP rights relating to software programs to be patented. This bill would need to be passed as soon as possible to bring Nigerian laws in this area in line with what obtains in other countries.

As the global economy shifts further into a connected information space, the relevance of data protection and the need for controlling privacy further increases. How can Nigeria establish more compatible legal frameworks at national, regional and multilateral levels for facilitating international trade and online commerce?

There are various international organisations and conventions dedicated to information and information communications technology. There seems to be a low level of national participation. For example, the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations Information and Communication Technologies Task Force. In addition, various international organisations such as the WHO, FAO, ICAO, International Trade Centre (“ITC”) have attempted to raise awareness about the role of ICT in their spheres of influence.

There needs to be a consistent interfacing with these organisations and in instances where there is actual interface, a genuine willingness to capture this in national legislation. This would help to ensure that national legislation is in line with international realities and developments and also help to fast-track national development.

What regulations do you think Nigeria’s government can put in place to encourage the ease of doing business for IT and ITes companies like iSON?

  The laws and regulations appear to be sufficient. However, there needs to be harmonisation between them and also certain government agencies such as the NITDA should have a more defined scope, as well as powers of monitoring and enforcement.

The laws and regulations would have to be implemented in an effective and efficient manner.

Furthermore, those responsible for implementing the laws would have to be trained properly to ensure they are competent and have a deep understanding of ICT matters.

This would aid clarity in the sector and increase the confidence of stakeholders and investors (IT and IT servicing companies like ISON).

An integral part of iSON’s growth is its work ideology; on-shoring as opposed to the more popular but less advantageous offshoring practice. What legal steps does Nigeria need to take in order to encourage the practice of on-shoring?

To encourage on-shoring Nigeria needs to make doing business easier in Nigeria, ensuring that the business registration process is made simpler, intellectual property rights are protected, clean up the judiciary to ensure that the legal process is made less cumbersome and time consuming.

Intellectual property requires more protection, the trademark and copyright process is fraught with challenges especially relating to the time it takes to register trademarks.

by Frank Uzuegbunam

January 30, 2018 | 12:32 am
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