SERAP Calls on CBN to Withdraw Regulations on Customers’ Social Media Handles or Face Legal Consequences
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a non-governmental organization, has urged Mr. Folashodun Shonubi, Acting Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to immediately remove the blatantly unlawful provisions in the Central Bank of Nigeria (Customer Due Diligence) Regulations that instruct banks to obtain information about customers’ social media handles for identification purposes.
SERAP has also requested the withdrawal of Circular number FPR/DIR/PUB/CIR/007/076 dated June 20, 2023, which mandates banks and other financial institutions to implement and comply with the illegal mandatory provisions regarding customers’ social media handles in the CBN Regulations.
Section 6(a)(iv) and Section 6(b)(iii) of the CBN Regulations state that banks and other financial institutions must identify their customers and collect information about their social media handles. SERAP argues that these provisions infringe on Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression and privacy, and are inconsistent with the rule of law.
According to SERAP, the CBN should uphold the rule of law and human rights in the discharge of its statutory functions, rather than undermining or violating these fundamental legal principles and standards.
SERAP expresses concern that the mandatory requirement would hinder Nigerians from freely exercising their rights online and potentially lead to the misuse of such information for political or unlawful purposes.
In a letter dated June 24, 2023, and signed by SERAP’s deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization states, “We kindly request that the recommended actions be taken within three days upon receiving and/or publishing this letter. If we do not receive a response within that timeframe, SERAP will take appropriate legal measures to compel you and the CBN to comply with our request in the public interest.”
“The compulsory requirement of social media handles or addresses of customers does not serve any legitimate purpose. Such information may unjustifiably or arbitrarily restrict the rights to freedom of expression and privacy,” the letter further explains.
SERAP expresses grave concern that the CBN Regulations and directive to banks and financial institutions would unduly limit constitutional and international rights to freedom of expression, privacy, and victims’ rights to justice and effective remedies.
Requiring social media handles or addresses as a means of customer identification would disproportionately impact Nigerians’ enjoyment of their rights to freedom of expression and privacy online.
The CBN must justify any restriction on people’s freedom of expression and privacy. Under the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and human rights treaties, restrictions on these rights must be strictly applied to safeguard the rights and avoid jeopardizing them.
There are already alternative means of identification such as passports, driver’s licenses, Bank Verification Numbers (BVN), and Tax Identification Numbers (TIN) that banks and financial institutions require from their customers.
The additional requirement of obtaining customers’ social media details fails to meet the criteria of legality, necessity, and proportionality.
The necessity requirement entails assessing the proportionality of grounds, ensuring that the pretext of “customer due diligence regulations” is not used to excessively intrude upon the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.
The CBN Regulations do not demonstrate how using social media handles or addresses as a means of identification would enhance banks’ and financial institutions’ ability to implement and comply with laws and regulations related to customer due diligence.
The CBN directive, which does not carry the force of law, also fails to provide an explanation of how social media handles or addresses can facilitate compliance with customer due diligence regulations.
Acquiring customers’ social media handles or addresses would unduly interfere with their rights to freedom of expression and privacy that do not comply with the elements of legality, legitimate purpose, and necessity and proportionality shall be deemed unlawful.”