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FG seeks review of int’l undersea cable law

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By Usman Oladimeji

Plans are underway to engage with other countries to expedite the process.

Following the cuts on undersea cables which affected Nigeria and some other west African countries, the Nigerian Government has set out seeking review of international and regional regulations for safeguarding undersea cables. Plans are underway to engage with countries like Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana to expedite the process. Bosun Tijani, the Minister of Communications, Innovation, and Digital Economy, revealed the information in a post on his social media account on March 17. Since March 14, telecommunications customers and bank clients have been facing challenges due to a damaged subsea cable in the Atlantic Ocean near Cote D’Ivoire, disrupting digital transactions and internet services along the West African coast.

MTN and various banks have blamed the recent network disruption on an undersea cable cuts in the Atlantic Ocean. MainOne, a submarine cable company, estimates that the repair process of the damaged undersea cable which disrupted internet services in Nigeria, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Senegal, and other countries in West and East Africa, could last for as long as two weeks. The company stated that cable cuts are caused by fishing, anchoring in shallow waters, and natural disasters like earthquakes and landslides, as well as equipment malfunctions.

There is a lack of effective regulations in place for cable attackers.

MainOne stated that initial analysis indicated that seismic activity on the seabed may have caused damage to the cable. More data will be collected during the repair process once the cable is retrieved. The minister of Communication emphasized that the unfortunate incident of the submarine cable cuts could ultimately strengthen Nigeria’s digital economy by making it more resilient. He praised MainOne’s leadership and telecommunication companies for their effective measures in minimizing the consequences of the cuts. He also reassured affected individuals that the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) is collaborating with relevant parties to promptly address the issue

Undersea cables play a crucial role in transmitting sensitive information and enabling global telecommunications, yet they are at risk due to their susceptibility. The security of sensitive data relies on the integrity of undersea cables, and any damage caused by deliberate acts such as sabotage, like cutting cables, can result in data breaches and disruptions to critical international communications. In the present day, there is a lack of effective regulations in place to hold responsible those who commit physical attacks on cables, whether through damage or sabotage, in international waters.

Safety of global data is at risk with possibility for disruption.

Therefore, it is crucial for global organizations like the United Nations (UN) to prioritize the security of undersea cables by establishing official protections that are acknowledged worldwide. The dire impacts of cable disruptions can be seen in places like Africa and the Matsu Islands. Ten countries experienced extensive connectivity problems and, in some instances, some endured days of blackout due to damage to the Africa Coast to Europe cable in April 2018. The cable connected twenty-two countries across the western coast of Africa and Europe at the time.

The safety of global information is at risk, with the possibility of bad actors using malicious tactics to disrupt connections and compromise data by tampering with undersea cables. Accountability for sabotage of these cables can differ based on their location, adding complexity to legal ramifications. The responsibility of deciding a suitable punishment for the individual or ship responsible for damaging cables, whether intentionally or unintentionally, falls under the jurisdiction of the state to which the ship belongs or of the person’s citizenship.

Related Article: Undersea cable disrupts Nigerian internet

Considering this, the need for strict security measures for undersea cables has become increasingly urgent. Prominent international organizations should consider implementing globally accepted protocols to safeguard these cables and prioritize the security of digital communications. The protection plan should grant authority to the state in which the cable owner operates. With this plan in place, the ability for the state of the cable owner to sue the state of the perpetrator could make those intending to sabotage reconsider their actions, serving as a strong deterrent, particularly if the penalties or costs for fixing the damage are substantial.

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