OrderPaperToday – The House of Representatives on Wednesday resolved to probe into allegations of privacy breach and identity theft of telecom subscribers in the country.

It also called for measures aimed at protecting telephone subscribers from breach of privacy, fraud, and loss of money.

These resolutions followed the adoption of a motion titled ‘Need to protect Telephone Subscribers from Breach of Privacy, Fraud and Loss of Money’ brought by Olusola Steve Fatoba, (APC, Ekiti) during plenary.

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Raising the motion, Fatoba noted that “by standard practice, telephone numbers and email addresses are usually required to open a Bank account.”

He explained that in line with regulations of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on dormant or inactive lines, telecommunication companies have the right and may reassign Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards and phone numbers once they are inactive for some time without recourse to the previous owners, so long as they remain inactive for a set period.

The lawmaker further said that the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) seeks to safeguard the rights of natural persons to data privacy and foster safe conduct for transactions involving the exchange of Personal Data, among others.

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According to him, “Pursuant to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Act, the Consumer Protection Framework was enacted with provisions that prohibit financial institutions from disclosing customers’ personal information and further require that financial institutions have appropriate data protection measures and staff training programs in place to prevent unauthorized access, alteration, disclosure, accidental loss and or destruction of customer data.

In spite of the regulatory frameworks in existence, the occurrence of a breach of privacy, cases of fraud, and consequently financial losses are on the increase.

Many Nigerians have fallen victims to illegal and unauthorised deduction of funds from their bank accounts because their financial institutions keep sending their bank account transaction details to their hitherto phone numbers which have been reassigned to new subscribers, thus opening a dangerous window for fraudulent activities.

It is the responsibility of bank account owners to ensure that their linked phone numbers are changed with the financial institutions whenever their phones get lost or when they stop using the linked phones.

A large number of bank account owners and telephone subscribers in Nigeria are not aware about privacy issues and data protection, and as such are vulnerable and could easily fall prey to identity theft and other nefarious activities of fraudsters,” he said.

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In his contribution to the debate, Yusuf Gagdi, (APC, Plateau) stressed the importance of the motion saying; “This motion is a very important one, particularly as it’s directed in protecting the people of Nigeria from being cheated by established Agencies regarding telecommunications activities of the various telecommunications companies and industries”.

People make money from one naira to two, and three by the time you underestimate those charges, telecommunications subscribers are making a lot of money on Nigerians.

But if you put in a committee today, you will ask the Central Bank to give you the statistics of those money generated as a result of unused data or other subscriptions you will discover that we may not need money to borrow to fund the Budget for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and such money is kept in their account in the various telecommunications subscribers,” Gagdi said.

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He added that “it is very important to improve the prayers of this motion in its entirety so that it will help them in protecting the peanut that those subscribers and telecommunications industries will be deducting or will be keeping from unused data of subscribers, and that, at the end of the day, one will discover that when they subscribe to a particular service and they are not able to consume the data.

The data will not be kept for them, nor return to them, nor money amounting to that data is given to them.

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This is quite important that telecommunication industries should know that we are here to protect our people and protect what belongs to them; if someone subscribes to a particular subscription, and the person did not consume what they subscribed for.

There is no fairness what so ever to warrant those institutions taking away those funds from the person, that the person has not used.

I am also standing on behalf of Pankshin/Kanan/ Kanke Federal Constituency and Nigerians at large that I am in support of this motion from the beginning to the end, and the prayers of this motion should be sustained,” he said

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Also in contribution to the debate, Mohammed Monguno (APC, Borno) noted that this motion is apt and genuine to what is obtainable in the country presently.

“There is serious breach of privacy in the operations of telecommunication companies as well as protection of the relevant data of Nigerians that are in their custody. This translates to jealously guiding and protecting the fundamental human right of Nigerians of their right to privacy.

The telecommunications companies have access to all our data and therefore it should be jealously protected so that no criminals should have access to those data and then use it for their fraudulent activities.

And then, privacy also matters because your conversation is supposed to purely be private and protected. No individual that is unauthorised by the laws of Nigeria should have access to your privacy, whether in form of data or conversation using telecommunication with other Nigerians,” he said.

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To this end, the House mandated its Committees on Telecommunications, as well as Banking and Currency to look into the cases of people who have fallen victims to breach of their privacy and identity theft.

The committees are also expected to identify inadequacies in the relevant regulatory frameworks and proffer solutions and report back within four (4) weeks for further legislative action.

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