Local

Court Upholds CBN’s Regulation On Collection Of Customers’ Social Media Handles

 

The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has ruled in favour of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) regulation, which requires financial institutions to demand and collect the social media handles of their customers.

 

The regulation is part of the standard Know-Your-Customer procedure.

 

The court ruled that the regulation is not a breach of the right to privacy.

 

Justice Nnamdi Dimgba struck out a suit filed by a Lagos-based lawyer, Chris Eke, seeking a declaration that the regulation as contained in Section 6(a)(iv) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (Customer Due Diligence) Regulations, 2023, said it is undemocratic, unconstitutional, null and void, to the extent of its inconsistency with Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

 

The applicant had also asked the court, to grant an order of perpetual injunction, restraining CBN from enforcing the regulation which requires financial institutions, to request customers’ social media handles as part of normal bank customer due diligence requirements.

 

The CBN in its response to the suit, filed a notice of preliminary objection, challenging the competence of the suit. The apex bank also disagreed that the said regulation constitutes any interference with the private life of the applicant, as claimed.

 

In his judgment, Justice Dimgba held that the notice of preliminary objection had merit, and he subsequently struck out the suit.

 

The judge said in his view, the provision of a social media handle is the same as the provision of email address, phone numbers and other means by which a potential customer of a bank can be contacted and or due diligence, to determine if the person is a fit and proper person for the bank to do business with, and as such, the regulation does not amount to an infringement on the right to privacy.

 

According to Justice Dimgba, the essence of having a social media account was for one to be publicly visible communication-wise, and it would be highly unreasonable to hold the CBN in breach of privacy for it.

 

The judge held that “First, the Applicant claims that the requirements on the CBN Regulations for financial institutions to request and collect the social media handle of its customers as part of KYC infringes on his right to privacy.”

 

“This claim is very ambitious and amounts to a very far throw.  The said Regulations are directed to and apply to financial institutions.  It does not apply to private individuals such as the Applicant.

 

“Even if, as appears to be argued, that the Regulations itself would inevitably affect the Applicant, this claim is speculative for the simple reason that in nowhere in the affidavit in support was it stated that the Applicant operates an account with a financial institution and that the said institution had demanded his social media handle.  So the suggestion that he would be affected by this Regulation, albeit negatively, is very speculative and at large.

 

“Secondly, there is also no deposition to the effect that any financial institution had begun to implement this Regulation and that its implementation had begun to create disruptions and inconvenience against the general population, in which case one could infer that the suit should be legitimated as a public interest litigation.

 

“Thirdly, assuming even that the banks had begun to implement these regulations, the applicant assuming he maintained any bank accounts or sought to open one, but is being hindered or irritated by the requirement of the Regulation to avail his social media handle as part of KYC, the Applicant still had a choice, which is to refuse to do business with any bank insisting on the information as part of its social media handle, but to seek other alternatives.

 

“Fourthly, and for all it is worth, I do not see how asking a banking or potential banking customer to provide his social media handle can ever amount to a breach of privacy.

 

“Granted that Section 37 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides inter alia: “The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.

 

“My view is that the provision of a social media handle is of the same genre as the provision of email address, phone numbers and other means by which a potential customer of a bank can be contacted.

 

“Thus, it is clear from the face of the Regulations as set out above that email addresses, phone numbers and social media handles are all provided for under clause 6iv just to show that the aim was not to pry on anyone but rather to provide alternative ways by which a customer of the bank can be contacted, and or due diligence conducted on the person to determine if the person is a fit and proper person to extend banking services to.

 

“I do not see how this infringes on the right to privacy.  I should even say that the essence of having a social media account was for one to be publicly visible communication-wise.  It, therefore, appears quite ironic, though wryly, that one can suggest that asking for information about a social media handle with which the individual exposes and immerses himself or herself in the public, can amount to a violation of privacy rights, which rights itself is all about isolation of one from public glare.

 

“It is also to my knowledge that even in filling some business applications,  personal information of this sort, is sometimes requested, and parties generally oblige.  If it does not constitute a breach of privacy, why should it now?

 

“A social media handle is left at large for the world to see, being in the public space, everyone enjoys the liberty to have access to it whether or not consent was obtained. It would be highly unreasonable to hold the Respondent in breach of privacy for what other persons have access to.

 

“The apprehension of the Applicant of his social interactions being monitored is manifestly speculative in itself and rather incredulous to believe that the financial institutions have the luxury of time to concern itself with such frivolities.

 

“On the whole, if I did not sustain the NPO, I would have dismissed the suit for the reasons stated.  But the NPO having been sustained, the suit is therefore hereby struck out.

 

“I make no order as to costs”.