21st Century Crime Control : An Analysis Of The Socio-economic Relevance Of The Cybercrimes (Prohibition And Prevention) Act 2015

INTRODUCTION.

The internet has revolutionised every sphere of human life, business and career. Today, significant economic and social activities take place in the cyberspace, a network of computer networks that facilitate the transmission and exchange of data across the globe.

In recognition of the importance of the cyberspace, its impact on the country’s economic and social sectors and the need to regulate the activities of users, the Cybercrimes (Prevention, Prohibition, Etc.) Act 2015 (hereinafter referred to as “the Act” or the ”Cybercrimes Act”) was passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the President at the time, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

The Act prohibits and punishes several cybercrimes which are crimes committed in or through the use of computer systems and networks. It also provides, ‘an effective, unified and comprehensive legal, regulatory and institutional framework for the prohibition, prevention, detection, prosecution and punishment of cybercrimes’ in the country.

Additionally, it guarantees the, ‘protection of critical national information infrastructure, and promotes cybersecurity and the protection of computer systems and networks, electronic communications, data and computer programs, intellectual property and privacy rights’.[1]

The Act aims to provide a safeguard against the commission of criminal activity in the cyberspace by providing measures to detect and prevent them, and in cases where they are committed, to mete out punishments to the offenders. In other words, the Act is a legislative tool for the control of crime in the cyberspace.

As a tool for the control of cybercrimes in 21st century Nigeria, the Act has many socio-economic benefits. In the light of this, this essay will explore the socio-economic relevance of the Act as a 21st century crime control tool.

THE CYBERCRIMES ACT AND 21ST CENTURY CRIME CONTROL.

Many decades ago, crimes were committed in physical settings (environments) using traditional instruments like knife, stick, gun and cutlass. Today, the advancement in communication technology and the evolution of the internet have resulted in the emergence of the cyberspace.

The cyberspace, just like every other space where human beings perform their activities, is vulnerable to the influx of crime and criminal elements. Different crimes such as terrorism, fraud, theft, impersonation, stalking and hacking can be committed in the cyberspace. In order to control these crimes and punish offenders, the Cybercrimes Act was enacted.

The Act has played a significant role in tackling cybercrimes and the threats they pose to the economy and the social stability and development of Nigeria. It has achieved this through the prohibition of cybercrimes, establishment of institutions responsible for the detection, investigations and prosecution of cybercrimes, and through the prescription of penalties for cybercrimes offenders.

The role of the Act as a cybercrime control tool has been practically relevant to Nigeria’s economic and social sectors. The following segment of the essay will explore the social and economic relevance of the Act.

THE SOCIAL RELEVANCE OF THE CYBERCRIMES ACT.

The internet has brought new direction and dimensions to social interactions and relations between individuals and groups in Nigeria. In particular, social media sites have made it easier for individuals across the country to connect with one another and build strong and lasting relationships. It has also served as platforms for social activities and also aided in the sustenance of existing relationships between friends and family members.

The Cybercrimes Act has proven its social relevance since its enactment. In diverse ways, the Act has aided in the building and maintenance of social stability in the country. It has also been instrumental in building a safe social cyberspace for individuals and organisations in the country. Also, the Act has been effective in tackling the barriers and threats which inhibit social interactions within the cyberspace. The social relevance of these feats will be evaluated below.

First, the Act has ensured the social stability of the country. Social stability is impossible to achieve without social interactions and relations between people. The Act has ensured social stability in the country by eliminating the cyber threats which would have hindered social interactions and relations between people in the cyberspace. It has done this by prohibiting and stipulating punishments for cyber threats like cyber terrorism,[2] identity theft and impersonation,[3] and cyberstalking[4].

By prohibiting and punishing these acts, the Act has ensured that the cyberspace is safe for use and this has encouraged individuals across the country to connect and interact with one another in the cyberspace. In turn, these interactions have resulted in the building of strong relationships between people from different parts of the country thereby nurturing the social stability of the country.

Moreover, the Act has proven its social relevance through the promotion of social activities within the cyberspace. Security is an important consideration and incentive for the choice of locations for social activities and events. This applies to social activities and events held in physical locations and those held virtually. The Act has helped to create a safe cyberspace where individuals and organisations can hold virtual conferences, webinars, hang outs and get-togethers.

The Act has been able to accomplish this through its provisions which prohibit computer system interference,[5] interception of electronic messages,[6] and the spreading of computer virus[7], which would have hindered or frustrated the smooth running of social activities held in the cyberspace.

By ensuring the security of social activities and events held in the cyberspace thereby encouraging increase in these activities and events, the Act has made a huge contribution to the social development of the country.

Another way that the Act has shown its social relevance is the maintenance of a safe platform for social services. In recent years, the cyberspace has come to play significant role in governance and delivery of welfare services. In Nigeria, the government has expanded its service delivery to the cyberspace. The government now relies on its websites and social media accounts for delivery of some social services to Nigerians.

These include digital trainings, empowerment schemes and business support funds schemes which operate on government websites and are targeted at the disadvantaged or less privileged in the country. These services are important to the social welfare of Nigerians and the social development of the country.

Without the Cybercrimes Act prohibiting and punishing acts which would have interfered with the administration of the websites and social media accounts, these websites and accounts would have been attacked by cybercriminals thereby frustrating or hindering the delivery of social services.

THE ECONOMIC RELEVANCE OF THE CYBERCRIMES ACT.

At present, the cyberspace is at the core of economic growth and development. The cyberspace has become the centre of economic activities. Today, individuals and organizations rely on the internet for the purchase of goods and services, contracts negotiations, money transfer and other financial services.

The Cybercrimes Act has been most relevant to the economy and its sustainable development. The economic relevance of the Act shall be explored in this section of the essay.

First, the economic relevance of the Act is evidenced in the elimination of threats to economic activities in the cyberspace. E-commerce has grown into a significant sector of the economy. A large number of businesses offer their products and services to customers on their websites and other platforms.

Despite being a significant contributor to the economy, businesses operating in the cyberspace are not immune to attack from cybercriminals whose activities pose a threat to these businesses and their operations. To this end, the Act prohibits and punishes acts which adversely affect businesses and consumers. In particular, the Act prohibits acts such as virus transmission, hacking, cybersquatting, computer system interference and fraud which are all threats to businesses.

On the part of the consumers, the Act prohibits acts such as electronic cards related fraud,[8] dealing in cards of another,[9] virus transmission,[10] manipulation of Automated Teller Machine (ATM) and Point of Sale (POS) machine,[11] identity theft and impersonation[12] which are threats to online transactions carried out by consumers. By prohibiting and punishing these acts, the Act paves the way for rapid growth of economic activities in the cyberspace and the development of the economy.

Furthermore, the Act has established its economic relevance by incentivising foreign direct investment. Foreign investors, especially those interested in the Financial Technology (FinTech) sector, consider the existence of cyber laws as an important factor for determining whether to invest in a country or not.

In particular, FinTech investors are drawn to countries with effective cyber laws. In Nigeria’s case, the Cybercrimes Act has been an incentive to foreign investors, especially those who have interest in Nigeria’s FinTech sector. In this way, the Act has helped to attract significant amount of foreign investments which have greatly boostered economic growth and development in the country.

Moreover, the Act has demonstrated its economic relevance through the stimulation of economic activities. It has achieved this by guaranteeing data privacy and confidentiality. In the 21st century, data privacy and confidentiality have become a great concern for businesses and consumers. Businesses are concerned about the privacy and confidentiality of their trade secrets and other information which are vital to their operations and also give them an edge over their competitors.

Without the assurance of data privacy and confidentiality, many businesses may relocate from the country or stop operations. The relocation or closure of such businesses will hinder national economic growth and development owing to the fact that businesses are the live wire of the economy. On the other hand, consumers are concerned with the privacy and confidentiality of their data which is collected by businesses.

Without a law guaranteeing data privacy and confidentiality, consumers may be dissuaded from engaging in online transactions, a situation which would adversely affect e-commerce in the country and, in extension, the economy. In essence, the Cybercrimes Act has demonstrated its economic relevance by stimulating economic growth and development through the prohibition and punishment of acts which interfere with the privacy and confidentiality of the data of businesses and consumers in the cyberspace.

These acts include computer system interference, unlawful access to a computer,[13] interception of messages and emails,[14] unauthorised modification of computer systems and network data[15]. Through the prohibition and punishment of these acts, the Act ensures that third parties do not have unauthorized access to the data of businesses and consumers.

Lastly, the Cybercrimes Act has established its economic relevance through the protection of intellectual property and other assets of businesses and individuals. Intellectual property is simply a creation of the human mind or intellect. In order to ensure that creatives and innovators enjoy the economic and moral benefits of their works, various laws in the country assign intellectual property rights to them.

These include copyright, trade secrets, trademarks, patents and industrial design. Today, businesses depend on their intellectual property in order to make profit and compete favourably with others. Thus, anything that adversely affects the intellectual property of a business or infringes on its rights over such property would adversely affect or cripple its operations.These intellectual property in the form of trade secrets, creative works (literary, musical or artistic works) may be stored in computer systems and vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Again, the Act has shown its economic relevance by prohibiting and punishing acts which are capable of destroying the intellectual property of businesses or interfering with the rights of such businesses over their intellectual property within the cyberspace. These acts include unlawful access to a computer, computer system interference, fraud, spreading of computer virus, unlawful interception of computer data and content[16].

FACTORS ADVERSELY AFFECTING THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC RELEVANCE OF THE CYBERCRIMES ACT.

Effective administration and enforcement give life and effect to laws. A legislation will remain a mere piece of paper or collection of principles without life and force if it is not effectively administered and enforced by the relevant authorities or persons.

In order to ensure that the objectives behind their enactment are achieved, most laws in Nigeria establish  bodies which would be responsible for the implementation of their provisions. In other cases, an existing body or officeholder is empowered by the law in question to enforce its provisions.

The Cybercrimes Act, with the goal of ensuring the effective implementation of its provisions, designates the office of the National Security Adviser as the coordinating body for all security and enforcement agencies under the Act.[17]

The office has the duty to, ‘provide support to all relevant security, intelligence, law enforcement agencies and military services to prevent and combat cyber crimes in Nigeria’ and also ensure the, ‘formulation and effective implementation of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy and a national cybersecurity policy for Nigeria’.

Under the Act, the Attorney General of the Federation is required to strengthen and improve existing legal frameworks to ensure the, ‘effective prosecution of cybercrimes and cybersecurity matters’.[18] On the other hand, all security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the country are mandated to develop the institutional capacity required for the effective  implementation of the  provisions of the Act.[19]

The Act, as shown earlier, has been an important crime control tool with enormous socio-economic relevance. However, it is instructive to point out that the Act has not reached its full potential. Despite being relevant to the control of cybercrimes, there have loopholes in its implementation.

The security and law enforcement agencies which are saddled with the responsibility of detecting and investigating cybercrimes, and arresting suspects have not been diligent in the performance of this duty. This is due to corruption, lack of institutional capacity (human and material resources), and lack of commitment. Despite the provisions of the Act, there are a large number of young people resident in different parts of the country who are involved in the commission of cybercrimes, especially credit card and computer-related fraud.[20]

This is because of the ineffective implementation of the Act. As a result of the shortage of the required human and material resources and lack of commitment, the security and law enforcement agencies, in many cases, fail or neglect to detect or investigate the incidents of these cybercrimes.

In other cases, the suspects connected to or involved in the commission of these cybercrimes are arrested and then released on the payment of bribes, without being charged and tried. This situation has greatly diminished the socioeconomic relevance of the Cybercrimes Act as a 21st century crime control tool.

CONCLUSION.

The Cybercrimes Act is, in principle, an effective tool for the control of cybercrimes in 21st century Nigeria. Its provisions prohibit different crimes which are committed in the cyberspace. It also stipulates stiff penalties for offenders in order to punish them and deter others from committing the offences prohibited by the Act. However, its socio-economic relevance has been diminished by the ineffective implementation of its provisions.

It is therefore recommended that the government tackle the factors underlying the commission of cybercrimes in the country, particularly poverty and youth unemployment. The tackling of these issues will help keep young people away from cybercrimes.

Also, the government, anti-graft agencies and the heads of security and law enforcement agencies in the country should ensure that the resources required for the detection, investigation and prosecution of cybercrimes are provided in adequate measures. In the same vein, corruption should be eliminated from the ranks of the security and law enforcement agencies to ensure that the provisions of the Act are effectively implemented.

Lastly, it is recommended that the legal frameworks relating to cybercrimes should be strengthened and augmented.  This can be done by making new regulations for the control of cybercrimes. In line with his power under Section 57(1) of the Act, the Attorney General of the Federation should make new orders, guidelines or regulations which are necessary for the effective implementation and enforcement of the provisions of the Act. This will strengthen the provisions of the Act and enhance its socio-economic relevance as an effective 21st century crime control tool.

Reference:

[1] Cybercrimes Act 2015, explanatory memorandum

[2] CA 2015, s18

[3] CA 2015, s22

[4] CA 2015, s24

[5] CA 2015, s8

[6] CA 2015, s9

[7] CA 2015, 32

[8] CA 2015, s33

[9] CA 2015, s34

[10] CA 2015, s32

[11] CA 2015, s30

[12] CA 2015, s22

[13] CA 2015, s6

[14] CA 2015, s9

[15] CA 2015, s16

[16] CA 2015, s12

[17] CA 2015, s41(1)

[18] CA 2015, s41(2)

[19] CA 2015, s41(3)

[20] Valentine Iwenwanne, ‘More Than Email Scams : the Evolution of Nigeria’s Cyber-crime Threat’ The National News (Abu Dhabi, 22 July 2021) < https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thenationalnews.com/world/africa/2021/07/22/more-than-email-scams-the-evolution-of-nigerias-cyber-crime-threat/%3foutputType=amp&d=233> accessed 23 May 2022

About the Author:

Usulor Chukwuebuka Prince is a 400 Level Law Student of University of Nigeria Nsukka, Enugu State. This essay was ranked the 2nd best in the just concluded Annual LIFIN NATIONAL LEGAL ESSAY COMPETITION 2022.

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