The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami has stated that his Ministry is committed to ensuring that the use of data in the fight against COVID-19 complies with laid down regulations.
Pantami who made this known through a statement released by the Ministry, reacted to reports that some unscrupulous persons claimed to have accessed important personal data of Nigerians.
The Minister noted that he is taking into consideration 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, provide palliatives to vulnerable members of society and prevent criminal activities.
He further explained that 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, therefore, urged the public to disregard any information from any group or individuals seeking to confirm or collect personal records for any purpose.
The statement reads: “The attention of Dr Isa Ali Pantami, Minister of the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (FMoCDE), has been drawn to reports of 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.
“The Ministry also notes 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, provide palliatives to vulnerable members of society and prevent criminal activities accentuated by the global health crisis we are currently dealing with.
“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, I have 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.
“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.
“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 utilising 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 use this medium to encourage all regulators or institutions that utilise personal data for public good to prioritise information and cyber-security. In the light of the above, the Minister said “Compliance with the NDPR and other laws relating to personal data processing is mandatory for public and private organisations.”
He further directed that all data controlling organisations to provide a means for efficient public communication across all platforms available throughout this period to respond to public enquiries and comments.