A Civil Society organisation, Paradigm Initiative on Thursday raised concerned about ongoing plans to use MTN Customer data to fight COVID-19 in Nigeria.
Paradigm Initiative is a pan-African social enterprise working to advance digital rights and inclusion in Africa.
“A report that MTN and the Nigeria Governors’ Forum have entered into a data-sharing partnership, following a presentation by MTN, to mine and provide its users’ data “to profile States vulnerability to the spread of the coronavirus” came to our attention.
“While efforts to mitigate and control the spread and sting of this novel coronavirus are appreciated, the existing and sacred fundamental rights of users must be protected at all times.
“First, it is important to reiterate that, no other time than now presents MTN and other Mobile Network Operators with the opportunity to “be transparent with the public about the sharing of Mobile Operator Data with Governments or Agencies” and to “help counter misinformation and raise awareness of data sharing to help combat COVID-19”. This is further buttressed by the COVID-19 Privacy Guidelines released by the GSM Association (GSMA) on April 6.
“However, in light of the report, Paradigm Initiative humbly asserts that it does not lie in the power of MTNNG to arbitrarily use, distribute or grant third-party access for the processing of users’ data. Information such as the travel history of MTN users, their current location, and other sensitive information are private data that should absolutely not be commodity in a partnership, irrespective of noble intentions.
“The reported sharing (or potential sharing) of users’ personal data by MTN to the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) will constitute a sheer breach of users’ trust and would adversely hamper on the right to the privacy of data of its users especially if the data being shared is personally identifiable data.
According to the GSMA COVID-19 Privacy Guidelines, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) should “take proactive steps to implement privacy best practices… and consider the ethical implications of lawful sharing of Mobile Operator Data for the purposes of helping Governments or Agencies to contain, delay or research the spread of the virus or to mitigate its impact on public health”. “Things are changing and thinking outside the box has become a survival skill but some things do not change. And one of such is that data subjects have the right to privacy of their data and such right may only be derogated from in constitutionally stipulated conditions and importantly, by legally stipulated processes.
“If the NGF believes that accessing and processing the location and travel history data of MTN users is the most innovative way to help public health in Nigeria, then Paradigm Initiative calls on the Forum to follow the legally stipulated process to transparently secure such data. Alternatively, MTN may share “insights or aggregated non-identifiable data to the extent that they are truly anonymous” in accordance with the GSMA COVID-19 Guidelines”.
By Sola Ojo