SERAP Wants Privacy Details of Election Data from INEC
By Adedapo Adesanya
The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mr Mahmood Yakubu, has been urged to publish the details of safeguards and mechanisms put in place to protect the privacy and security of election information and data in the custody of the organisation, including in its servers, databases and other electronic formats.
This appeal was made by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in a Freedom of Information (FoI) request dated March 26, 2022.
In the document signed by SERAP deputy director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, SERAP urged him to “clarify whether any third-party is involved in the collection, control, and use of election information and data, the legal rules and processes guiding the choice of any such third party”.
SERAP also urged him to “clarify the other location or locations where election information is stored apart from Abuja, and the details of any third-party who has access to such a database, the safeguards and contingency plans put in place by INEC to address any threats to the privacy and security of election information”.
“Ensuring adequate safeguards and mechanisms to protect the privacy and security of election information and data would improve the ability of INEC to effectively discharge its constitutional and statutory duties”.
SERAP said: “This would also help to remove risks of attack and unlawful interference by any unauthorised person with election information and data”.
According to SERAP, “Widely publishing the details of safeguards and mechanisms of election data and information would also contribute to improving the sanctity and integrity of the electoral process, and public trust and confidence in the process”.
The letter, read in part: “Putting in place adequate technological security measures to prevent unauthorized access to election information and data would improve the credibility of the electoral process and the enjoyment of people’s right to participate in their own government.
“As an institution, which collects, controls and uses election-related information and data in the discharge of its constitutional and statutory duties, INEC has a legal responsibility to ensure adequate protection of such information and data from threats and vulnerabilities to attack or interference.
“Any interference by unauthorised third party in election information and data may be used for corrupt, political and other unlawful purposes, and would expose election systems to fraud and meddling, as well undermine the right to participation and the country’s democratic system.
“The right of people to participate in their government is a fundamental feature of any democratic society, and any infringement of privacy and security of election information and data would strike at the heart of representative government.
“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel INEC to comply with our request in the public interest.
“SERAP notes that voter registration systems and voting systems are the most vulnerable and susceptible to manipulation by corrupt politicians and other actors.
“As the experiences in other countries have shown, election information is often susceptible to unlawful interference by corrupt politicians and other actors, which can be damaging to the integrity of the electoral process and democratic practices.
“The experiences of other countries demonstrate the need for INEC to take effective and transparent measures to ensure and protect the privacy and security of election information and data, which would protect the integrity of the country’s democracy.
“Any privacy or security weakness in any component of any of the election systems can be easily exploited to cast doubt on the integrity of the electoral process.
“Our requests are brought in the public interest, and in keeping with the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the Electoral Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and the country’s international obligations including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance.
“SERAP notes that Section 9(2)(a) of the Electoral Act 2022 provides that INEC ‘shall keep the Register of Voters in its National Headquarters and other locations as the Commission may determine.’ The provision also states that INEC ‘shall keep the Register of Voters in electronic format in its central database.’
“Section 153 of the Act defines ‘electronic format’ to include ‘the electronic version of the Register of Voters or National Electronic Register of Election Results, as the case may be, created, recorded, transmitted or stored in digital form or in other intangible forms by electronic, magnetic or optical means or by any other means.”
The organisation said: “Section 37 of the Nigerian Constitution, article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights protect against arbitrary or unlawful interference with one’s privacy.
“Interference with the privacy of election information and data would clearly undermine the security of any such information and data. Similarly, Article 9 (1) of the African Charter provides that, ‘Every individual shall have the right to receive information.
“Article 2(10) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance requires states parties including Nigeria to ‘promote the establishment of the necessary conditions to foster citizen participation, transparency, access to information, and accountability in the management of public affairs.’”