The emergence of Information and Communication Technology (“ICT”) has significantly impacted the old and usual ways of doing things, by providing an alternative, easy, and efficient means of interaction over a network of computers in real-time for people all around the world. Despite that, its growth continues to be negatively affected by cybercrime and this has negatively impacted the socio-economic well-being of nations, companies, and individuals in unimaginable ways.
The first incidence of cybercrime occurred in 1834 when a group of thieves intending to steal financial market information hacked into the French Telegram system.Also in 1981 at the beginning stage of the ICT, Lan Murphy hacked into the internal clock which monitored the billing rate of an American Telephone Company known as AT & T’s to allow users make discounted calls at peak time.
He was later tried and convicted for felony but not for cybercrime related offence at the Court of Common Pleas in Montgomery, Pennsylvania.
By 1986, the Congress had passed the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act into law, prohibiting unauthorized access to computer, which led to the conviction of a Harvard University graduate in 1988 known as Rover Tappan Morris who had hacked into a computer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to release a harmful computer program leaving over 60,000 computers connected to the internet affected.
At the face of the increasing sophisticated attacks on computers and computer networks, arguably all countries of the world have either modified or enacted separate laws to incriminate the activities.
Here in Nigeria, the Cybercrimes (Prohibition & Prevention) Act 2015 was passed and signed into law by the former President Goodluck Jonathan, as a formal means of cybercrime control as an independent legislation from existing criminal laws in the country to among other things; prohibit and prevent unauthorized access to protected computers.
The Act failed to define cybercrime, but according to MerriamWebster.com, cybercrime is defined as any criminal activity committed using a computer to illegally access, transmit or manipulate data. In this regard, a computer can either be an object of the attack or used to perpetrate the act.
The Act appears to have utmost relevance especially with growing number of internet usage in Nigeria and the consequent increase in the rate of cybercrimes. This essay explores the social and economic relevance of the Cybercrime Act 2015 and further makes recommendations for its full implementation.
2.0 CRIME AND CRIME CONTROL MECHANISM.
The term crime, has a wide range of meaning, and has no generally accepted definition due to the complexity of its definition – its definition differs according to the school of thought of the scholar.
Scholars who belong to the Positive school perceive crime as an act which the ruler prescribes as wrong and enforced through penal sanctions. The Liberalists defined it as a limitation to the rights, freedom and liberty of a person while the Moralists differed by portraying crimes from the angle of morality.
On the other hand, crime control refers to the measures for preventing and controlling crimes in the society, to meet the aims and objectives for the establishment of criminal laws. Crime control methods are broadly categorized into formal and informal crime control.
While informal crimes control method relies on the efforts, opinion and sanctions of social and moral institutions such as the family unit, churches, peer-groups to control crimes in the society, formal crime control method places heavy reliance on the law and government institutions established by law to detect, prosecute and punish offenders.
A crime is an act or omission which is inimical to the interests of the State, and must be prescribed as wrong and prohibited with a punishment attached under a written law in force.
In Nigeria, criminal law exists in two-folds, whereby the Criminal Code applies to the Southern States whereas the Penal Code applies to the North. However, they are both written laws which have prescribed various acts and omissions as offences.
Thus, the both laws use “offences” in place of “crime” to denote legal wrongs. The Criminal Code defines crime to mean an act or omission which renders the person doing the act or making the omission liable to punishment under the Code or under any Act or Law. Equally, Section 4(2) of the Penal Code also incriminates both acts and omission to the extent that the “doing of a thing” or the “refusal to do it” may constitutes a crime under a written law.
For instance, it is an offence for a parent to wilfully and without lawful excuse dessert a child below the age of 12 years without a means of support and such a person is liable upon conviction to a term of one year imprisonment.
The aim of criminal laws is to prohibit acts deemed inimical to the interests of the State, the citizens, and their property. In other words, criminal law ensures orderliness in the society and ensures adequate protection for citizen’s lives, property and social interactions.
3.0 THE CYBERCRIMES (PROHIBITION AND PREVENTION) ACT 2015.
The Cybercrimes (Prohibition & Prevention) Act 2015 was enacted as a response to the growing trend of dangerous criminal activities being perpetrated by cybercriminals all over the world, which Nigeria is not left out.
In 2014, a study conducted by the Canada Security System (“CSIS”) showed that the world lost about $500 billion to cybercrime, standing at 0.75% of global income. In Nigeria alone, Commercial Banks operating in the country lost over #15 billion, an estimated amount of $30 million. And on a general scale, the Chief Strategy Officer of Deloitte West Africa reported in 2021 that Nigeria lost about #5.5 trillion in 10 years to cybercrime.
Cybercrime has wide reaching negative implications on the government, individuals and businesses operating in the country, especially as most businesses are beginning to introduce innovative ways of doing business; daily business management and operations, finance structuring, storage of important documents and customers’ data.
Also, research has shown the major targets of cybercriminal are the government, business entities and financial institutions. Private individuals are also subjects of attacks; to invade private data of such persons for various purposes to amongst others impersonate, sell such data for profit, steal private information for illegal use, and financial fraud.
The Cybercrime Act was elaborate in its provisions to extend activities which constitute cybercrimes to acts which amount to violation of fundamental rights of citizens such as the right to the dignity of human person and right to privacy and family life.
The Cybercrime Act established regulatory and institutional structures for the use, transmission and storage of data in computers, computer networks and also prohibited certain activities in relation to communication over a network of computers.
The Act gives the President rights to by Order published in the Federal gazette, designate certain computer networks as critical national infrastructure to protect such infrastructure, management, transfer, access and control of data contained in them.
Also, the Act incriminated any unlawful and unauthorized access to a computer in which any violation and upon conviction; such person is liable for a term of 15 years without the option of fine and in cases where such access results to a grievous bodily harm, a fine of #5,000,000 and imprisonment term of two years.
It is also a crime under the Act to unlawfully intercept computer communications, without any authority modify computer data, any intentional unauthorized interference with a computer which hinders the functioning of the computer by inputting, transmitting, damaging, deleting, deteriorating, altering or suppressing computer data.
It is as well a crime to unlawfully produce, supply, adapt, manipulate, the procure for use, imports, exports, distributes, offer for sale any device or computer program for the purpose of committing any offence contained in the Act.
The use of a computer or computer network to intentionally or fraudulently impersonate any person who is either living or dead with the intent to deceive, defraud, gain personal advantage or interest in property, cause disadvantage to the person impersonated or to obstruct arrest is also incriminated under the Act.
The Act went further to incriminate the use of the computer to create, procure, possess, offer or distribute child pornography, including using a computer medium for texting a child for the purpose of carrying out any sexual activity with the child. Similarly, it is an offence to use a computer to send a false message to any person for the purpose of threatening and causing anxiety to such person.
Cybersquatting which includes the intentionally use of a name, business name, trademark, domain name and phrases registered, owned or in use by any individual, body corporate or belonging to either the Federal, State or Local Governments in Nigeria is also prohibited.Also, it is an offence to make use of the computer to carry out terrorism attacks, share any racist and xenophobic material, attempt, aid, conspire or aid the commission of the offences contained in the Act.
Under the Act, a body corporate is capable of committing the offences contained in it, including its Chief Executive Officer, Director, Manager and Secretary. To protect the safety of internet users, the Act further provides guidelines for Service Providers in obtaining, using and transferring users’ data.
A service provider as defined by the Act to mean “any public or private entity that provides to users of its service the ability to communicate by means of a computer system, electronic communication devices, mobile networks; and any other entity that processes or stores computer data on behalf of such Communication service or users of such service.”
The Act also established the Cybercrime Advisory Council and gave it powers to make guidelines in respect of provisions contained therein and has responsibility to advise the government on measures for fighting cybercrime related offense, threats to the nation’s cyberspace and cyber security.
4.0 THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC RELEVANCE OF CYBERCRIME ACT 2015 IN NIGERIA.
The growing cases of cybercrime in the world and Nigeria particularly, as a result of moral and social decadence, quest for wealth and unemployment may have had more damaging effects on the country generally but for the Cybercrime Act which has on a wider level, curbed frequent cases of cybercrime.
For instance, one of the reoccurring cases of cybercrime in Nigeria before the emergence of the Cybercrime Act to incriminate was cyber squatting – which stood more like a business for most people. The Act has succeeded in substantially crippling the illegal act through investigations, identification and prosecution of offenders.
Illustratively, In 2011 before coming into force of the Act, one Emmanuel Efremov, was reported to have registered a domain name registered “lindaikeji.net” which is directly similar to the domain name “www.lindaikejisblog.com,” belonging to one of Nigeria’s foremost bloggers, Linda Ikeji.
He later redirected the blog to the actual owner with the intention to cover evidence of his acts after profiting from the act and he was never prosecuted; maybe because the Cybercrime Act was not in existence at the time.
However, a similar case came up in 2018 when the Nigerian Government launched the National Carrier/Airline for Nigeria 18th July 2018 and on same day, one Mr Olumayowa Elegbede intentionally bought the domain names; NigeriaAir.ng and NigeriaAir.com.ng and later put them for sale to the government agency. An act of this nature from the definition of Section 58 of the Act amounts to cyber squatting although the perpetrator was never prosecuted.
In 2021, a Federal High Court sitting in Ilorin, Kwara State convicted and jailed a student of the Federal Polytechnic, Offa, for one year after he was found guilty of internet fraud upon a suit filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (“EFCC”). The 21 year old Olaleye Rosheed using his Iphone device, pretended to be a white female, who has the Gmail account [email protected] Although the charge was brought under Section 95 of the penal code, punishable under Section 324 rather than the Cybercrime Act.
However, in 2022, same Federal High Court sitting in Ilorin Kwara State convicted and sentenced 6 cybercriminals namely; Adetoye Damilare Timilehin, Adebayo Ridwan Abiola, Adeshina, Hammed Akorede Hammed, Komolafe Shina David and Fatimehin Kayode to different imprisonment terms and fines, upon a successful proof of the crimes of cybercrime related offences of impersonation and internet fraud by the EFCC. The convicts had utilized their illegal acts to immerse wealth and defraud their victims of about $750,000, $200,000, $100,000, and $50,000 respectively.
This decision came at a time when Nigeria is ranked at the 16th most attacked by cybercriminals by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) in the worldand 3rd in Africa according to a report from Kasperky Lab, a global cybersecurity company, in a 2019 data.
Just in 2021, a Nigerian, Obinwanne Okeke, was convicted and jailed in the United States for using a registered company based in Nigeria to defraud people of over $11m. Also in 2021, a popular Nigerian Instagram Influencer Raymond Abbas also called Hushpuppi was arrested in Dubai in connection with allegations of internet fraud.
From the provisions of the Cybercrime Act 2015, a rational conclusion is that cybercrime does not only relate to financial offences but also other areas which are of great interest to the security architecture of the nation, companies and individuals for the safe use of computers to fight security challenges, aid business operations and activities and private use by individuals for communication and storage of data. In other words, it is right to state that the act extends to all social life and economic activities of the nation. Thus, the social and economic relevance of the Act are numerous and have benefited the country in dimensional ways.
4.1 INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY THEFT.
Intellectual property rights are important for economic growth, and also stand as a necessary propeller for constant innovations due to the guarantee of the attendant rights to the exclusive use and ownership of the innovation and product to which the right relates.
It will amount to a total defeat of intellectual property rights; patent, trademark, copyright, industrial design and trades secrets, if the Cybercrime Act did not come in to prohibit unlawful access to computers to which the certain intellectual property rights of companies and security designs of security agencies are stored.
A study gathered from research showed that China is at the lead of intellectual property theft, through unlawful access to computers and theft of intellectual property products of countries and companies in terms of industrial design, trade secrets and other commercially valuable information – these in addition other kinds of cybercrimes by China caused the loss of about $20 billion in losses in 2014 to other countries.
Hence, the Act has incriminated activities of cybercriminals which may affect the value, use, and ownership of intellectual property rights of the government, companies and people in the creative industry.
4.2 SAFETY OF FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS.
A 2021 report showed that Nigerian Commercial Banks lost over $30 million to cybercrime only in 10 years, which stands at a whooping sum of #15 billion. This record number excludes other attacks and cybercrimes committed against Financial Technology Companies who depend on ICT and Internet of Things (“IoT”) to carry out business transactions, payment processing and serving as payment gateways for companies.
Every year, cybercrime attacks on Financial Technology Companies keep rising according to a report from Serianu Cybersecurity. A report from the FBI has also shown that Financial Technology companies from all around the world have lost $20 billion cumulatively in value to cybercrime related attacks.
Hence, the Act having come into existence is helping to reduce the attacks on financial institutions through system hack, phishing links, impersonations and other unlawful methods. At the moment, people who have been found to have committed financial frauds against financial institutions and private persons using the computer have been prosecuted, convicted and punished in line with tenets of the extant law, and this is helping to increase confidence of customers on online banking and banking institutions.
4.3 SECURITY AND PRIVACY OF INTERNET USERS’ DATA.
The safety of internet users’ data and privacy of citizens have also been subjects of cybercrime attacks around the world. Worthy of note is the fact that the right to privacy is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. Hence, the Cybercrime Act has solidified the protection of this right in respect of online activities and records of citizens stored on the internet to criminalize unlawful activities that may result to their violation.
4.4 IMPROVEMENT IN THE SECURITY OF THE COUNTRY.
The provisions of the Act which relate to prohibition of the use of computers for the purpose of carrying out terrorism activities has also to a great extent, reduced incidences of terrorism in the country through ICT facilities.Although no one has been prosecuted under this section of the Act, it is believed that it will help to manage any future occurrence, to ensure the prosecution of offenders.
Maybe the reason this provision has not been tested is due to the fact that terrorism activities in the country are not so sophisticated in respect of using computes to carry out such activities. At the Arabian Peninsula, there was a 2010 online magazine publication by al-Qaeda which contained training guidelines for terrorists.
4.5 MAINTENANCE OF COMMON MORAL STANDARDS OF THE COUNTRY.
Socially, the sharing, soliciting, and distribution of child pornography is both immoral and illegal. The world has transformed beyond holding certain acts as immoral such as Child pornography, but the Cybercrime Act has made it a crime to engage in such activities which may endanger the life of the child in future.
The Act also ensured social order by laying the basic principles for the use of ICT facilities for social interactions and business activities, unlawful interference with data and privacy of citizens.
It is recommended that the government should increase research in the areas of identifying cybercrime related activities to find common ways of fighting them. This is necessary for achieving the purposes of the Act and maintaining a level of sanity in the internet space, which now forms an integral part of the society and citizen’s lives.
Furthermore, there should be increased training and funding for Officers of the Nigerian security forces, especially the Police and the EFCC to help its Officers in tracking and prosecuting cybercriminals.
There is also a need to create more jobs for the teeming youths to dissuade their minds from engaging in cyber crimes for survival. The government must also engage in awareness creation on the common forms of cybercrime, including their dangers to the socio-economic growth of the country.
The Cybercrime Act 2015 emerged as a formal means of crime control to curb the increasing rate of cybercrime related activities in the country. It has been found to be of utmost relevance to the socio-economic well-being of the country, through the establishment of regulatory and institutional framework for the use of the computer and the internet, which now forms an integral part of the society.
While the Act has not succeeded in eliminating cybercrime activities in the country which may never happen, it has continued to help in maintaining a level of sanity in internet usage, thereby contributing substantially to the social and economic well-being of the country.
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About the author:
Ngwuta Oforbuike is a final year student at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. His essay ranked the best in the just concluded Annual LIFIN National Legal Essay Competition.