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FGN to spend N4.86b monitoring calls, social media messages

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By Sunday Elom N

The National Assembly has approved the sum of N4.86 billion for the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government through National Intelligence Agency, NIA, to spy, monitor and track phone calls, text messages and WhatsApp messages of Nigerians.

The approved funds were included in the supplementary budget of N982.7 billion approved by the legislators of the Senate and House of Reps a few days ago.

A breakdown of the funds revealed that while N1.93 billion has been allocated for what they called ‘WhatsApp Intercept Solution,’ N2.93 billion was allocated for a communications system called ‘Thuraya’ used for monitoring voice calls, call-related information, Short Message Service (SMS) and data traffic amongst others.  

The Nigerian government has been making frantic efforts to stifle media activities and press freedom through the media bill amendment, the resistance of which by media practitioners and Nigerian populace led the federal government to take this path as its renewed effort to gag the Nigerian media ecosystem.

It is known that the national assembly is already about to pass National Press Council, NPC, and National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, bills, intended to empower the federal ministry of information to absolutely control and regulate media operations. However, pressures by Nigerians forced the Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila to deny plans by the National Assembly to muzzle and gag the media.

It will be recalled that, in May this year (2021), a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, exposed, in detail, how the Nigerian security agencies have acquired Universal Forensic Extraction Device, UFED, a technology meant to carry out forensic surveillance on the phones of journalists developed by the United States of America and Israeli firms.   

Orient Daily learnt that UFED, which is a product of a US company but sold by an Israeli firm, called Cellebrite and the Forensic Toolkit, FTK, can be used to extract information from mobile phones and computers. The devices also have the capacity to penetrate locked mobile devices and decrypt information of the users.

Also, the CPJ reported that, in 2019, the Nigerian military arrested the regional editor of Daily Trust in the North-East, Uthman Abubakar, in Maiduguri, Borno state capital and conducted a forensic search on his mobile phones and computers.

According to the report, Abubakar’s phones and computers were seized while he was incarcerated for two days and questioned about his story sources on a report he published on a military operation.

Although he was later released without charges, during the time he was held in military custody, the soldiers conducted a forensic search on his mobile phones and computers.

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