THERE are growing concerns over the decision of the Muhammadu Buhari government to mine Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) data of phone users in the country.
Isa Pantami, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy disclosed government’s plan to mine phone data in a viral video circulating across the social media platforms, in which he said that the poorest of the poor in the country were identified and offered supports through the SIM registration data mined by the ministry.
The Minister revealed this in a video interview with an unidentified person. The statement also aligns with the recent pronouncement by Sadiya Umar-Farouq, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, who said beneficiaries of the social intervention scheme would be sourced through SIM records of phone users and the Biometric Verification Numbers (BVN).
Pantami had earlier explained in the footage that the SIM registration exercise and call card loading history would enable the ministry to identify the poverty level of those who should urgently benefit from the current social intervention program.
These measures, he noted, would help the Federal Government reach out to the most vulnerable households and members of the community.
“We have supported our country in the area of social intervention…one of the ways we came up with this is using our SIM/ telecom registration where citizens have a database for registration. Through SIM registration of their mobile phones and SIM cards, we partake in data mining in order to identify their poverty level,” Pantami stated in the video.
“Through data mining, we have been discovering those that need urgent intervention in terms of feeding and other basic necessities of life.”
The minister further acknowledged the release of huge sums as a palliative by the federal government to the poor.
“We discover that with this new policy on lockdown in some states and restriction of movements, many people among our citizens find it difficult to get what to eat, so this government budgeted a huge amount of money in order to support them with whatever they need,” Pantami stated.
However, lawyers have contested the approach of accessing the biometric data, describing it as an invasion of privacy
Usually, phone subscribers in Nigeria are required by law to register their sim cards. During the registration process, they have to provide information such as name, occupation, and home address including their biometrics, which are fingerprints and digital images.
These data, according to a report on a public inquiry on the SIM registration regulation, released in December 2010, however, restrict telecom operators from retaining biometric information of subscribers.
Except for the telecom operator’s internal use, the National Communications Commission (NCC) Registration of Telephone Subscribers Regulation (2011) recognizes section 37 of the nation’s constitution which safeguards citizens’ privacy.