Remarks by Chargé d’Affaires Maria E. Brewer Opening of West Africa Cyber Initiative Bilateral Workshops (July 25, 2016)

(as prepared for delivery) 

Good morning.  Ladies and gentlemen, investigators from various Nigerian law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, other members of the Nigerian government, and our many visitors from the U.S. government, thank you for coming out this morning.  All protocols observed.

It is my pleasure to welcome all of you to the West Africa Cybersecurity Initiative Bilateral Workshop this morning.  We are pleased to be working in collaboration with the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Justice, the U.S. State Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Homeland Security.  Together, we are committed to helping the Nigerian government fight cybercrime.  Boosting cybersecurity is critical to prosperity in our interconnected world.

I’m sure you will all agree that the world has benefited tremendously from the rapid growth of the internet.  Generating new ways of doing business, transforming ways of communication, creating new channels for individuals to organize and express themselves—the internet has made all of this possible.

But while the digital age presents boundless opportunities, it also presents many new challenges to law enforcement.  In 2015 alone, high profile cybercrimes included a breach of a major health insurance company’s IT system, hacking the U.S. Office of Personnel Management system, and an unprecedented cyberattack on the Ukrainian power grid.  These cyber attacks led to the theft of millions of customers’ account information, 22 million personnel files, and power cuts to hundreds of thousands of customers.  Use of the internet has intensified debates on how, or even if, cyberspace should be governed.  Repressive regimes see open internet as a threat to their stability.

Developing a shared understanding between governments about acceptable behavior in cyberspace does not address the risks posed by non-state actors.  Cybercrime often arises in a transnational setting, costing the global economy billions of dollars and reducing public trust in the internet.  Effectively fighting cybercrime requires three components—the passage of substantive cybercrime laws; advanced and comprehensive investigative tools; and effective mechanisms for international cooperation.

I commend Nigeria for accomplishing the first and most important of these steps by passing the Cybercrime Act of 2015, which also incorporated recommendations from the United States and the United Kingdom.  We hope that this workshop will contribute to strengthening the abilities of investigators and the increase our ability to cooperate across national boundaries.

Nigeria, along with the United States, must continue to address cybercrime in a manner consistent with core values of civil liberties and commitment to privacy.  We need to ensure the balance of security and individual rights by giving law enforcement the appropriate investigative authorities.  But we must continue to protect individual rights through appropriate judicial review and oversight.  Democracies operate best when based on transparent legal authorities.  We must ensure that collection and sharing of intelligence is done only for legitimate national security reasons. It is not done to suppress criticism or dissent.

We need to stand together for an open and secure internet.  We seek a future that rewards innovation, empowers individuals, strengthens communities, and builds better governments.  We need to preserve and expand the global space for freedom of expression and for the free flow of information, goods, and services.  Countries that heavily regulate the internet and on-line communications do not advance as quickly as countries with an open attitude towards commerce.

Today, we aim to equip the investigators and prosecutors from across the Nigerian government with the digital, forensic, and evidence tools they need to prosecute cases.  At the same time, this workshop highlights international cooperation, cybersecurity strategies, and civil liberty issues.  I hope you will find this workshop a valuable and helpful session that not only enhances your substantive areas of expertise, but also serves as a platform to share your challenges and concerns and optimizing goals of Nigeria to build its cadre of highly skilled investigators and prosecutors.

I also encourage all of you to also take this opportunity to network among your colleagues and strengthen the bonds within the Nigerian and U.S. law enforcement community.  The more we understand each other and our respective bureaucracies, the less criminals can exploit loopholes based on our divisions.  Let’s share our experiences and best practices and make the internet a safe and productive tool for the greater good of all.  Thank you.