By Wofai Iwara
Recently the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) commenced a scheme to compulsorily capture the biometric data of all banking consumers pursuant to the issuance of Biometric Verification Numbers (BVN) and in line with its know your customer initiative (KYC) allegedly aimed at improving banking operation and regulations. This is just one of the many biometric data capturing schemes that several government agencies such as the Nigerian Immigration Service, INEC, FRSC etc, have carried out.
It is worthy to state that biometric data capture is an innovative process of unique identification of living individual termed as capture subjects, through their fingerprints, iris scan e.t.c. stored in database. This is the data that is used in many developed countries and societies, to build data bases for criminal investigation through forensic analysis. Its advantage is that there is a higher degree of accuracy in the use of biometric data for purposes of identity verification, as no two individuals possess the same biometric data. This ultimately means biometric data is unalterable and therefore irreplaceable and should ultimately be of great importance to its owner.
The imminent danger therefore is in the peculiar inalterability of the data vis-a-vis global trends of identity theft as well as the vulnerability of the integrity of capture, storage and usage processes that may exist in the face of poor regulation through legislation. In established jurisdictions like the US and the UK, a plethora of laws centered on data retention and privacy conform to a set of principles aimed at protecting personal data and privacy and ultimately criminalize unauthorized access and usage in order to deter perpetrators and compensate victims of same.
In Nigeria however it may shock us to note that not only do these agencies like the CBN carry out compulsory biometric data capturing without recourse to the existing potential to infringement of our Constitutional rights to privacy they do so without the express authority of their enabling legislation. For instance nothing in the CBN Act of 2007 expressly provides for, let alone authorises the use of biometric data to effectively carry out the functions of banking regulation. The CBN has advanced the argument that the process will greatly check fraud and improve credit assessment as well as check multiple lending and serial defaulters etc. But what the CBN is not telling us is that they have not taken time to carry out proper sensitization of the legal implication of collecting people’s private biometric data, compulsorily, which is unalterable; how the data captured will be stored used and shared, what checks have been put in place to ensure redress in the event of breach e.t.c. This is in view of the fact that there are best practice standards of accountability and transparency to ensure integrity of the process and also guarantee the protection of the rights of individuals, which exist internationally and bind even the German contractors that CBN has mobilised to deploy the infrastructure for the Data capturing exercise.
Without a doubt Nigerians should appreciate the lurking dangers of complacency and ask how do we check this growing menace of unaccountability, impunity, double standard and waste on the part of government agencies and ensure that our constitutionally guaranteed rights are not eroded and subverted in the course of championing reform? Why have agencies like the CBN failed to consider existing legally backed options like the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) who are by virtue legislation empowered to capture store and even share biometric information with other government agencies? The NIMC Act of 2007 even in its shortcomings has at least created a frame work for accountability regarding the captures storage and sharing of biometric data and should be deferred to in that regard. (See Sections 14 – 28).
Governments agencies like the CBN have a moral obligation to act responsibly while at the same time think of the economic imperatives of deploying “all over again” another of numerous biometric data capture schemes at great cost and even greater risk of exposing Nigerians to compromise and infringement of their rights to privacy as guaranteed under Section 37 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended). This is more so (and I stand to be corrected) as there is no single banking jurisdiction in the world where consumers are required to compulsorily submit their biometric data before they can enjoy banking services, as the CBN is seeking to tyrannically impose. Citizens on the other hand must be alive to their responsibility to call out impunity under any guise and balance the scales of accountability in order to strengthen our democratic ideals and institutions.
Say NO to compulsory biometric data capture!
Wofai Iwara is an Attorney and Partner (Biz .Dev. & CSR) in the firm of FORTELEGAL PARTNERS a corporate and commercial law firm with offices in Abuja, Calabar and Lagos. He specialises in Human Rights and IT Law. He is also the consultant on policy and strategy in CIVIL RIGHTS AND ACCOUNTABILITY NETWORK INITIATIVE (CRAANI) an NGO focused on sustainable development through meaningful engagement in fundamental rights and accountability. He can be reached via: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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