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Spy-bill won’t only combat crime, it will also erode the privacy rights of ordinary Ghanaians


phone_shadowImagine this scenario; you have just had a pleasant and intimate conversation on the cell phone with your better half, your wife, girlfriend or husband or you have just wrapped up a heated discussion with your half-brother about the family house.

All along, you thought the conversations were strictly confined to you and your loved ones until you discover to your utter consternation that a third party had been listening intently to the sweet nothings you whispered to your wife, girlfriend and husband or to the stern warnings you dispensed to your half-brother to be a good sport.

Your immediate reaction to this rude intrusion on your private space quite naturally will be one of anger and exasperation. At this stage, you are huffing and puffing, very agitated and ready to do battle with whoever it was that was snooping on your conversations.

But when you finally identify the suspect, what rationale or valid explanation do they offer for their irritating and intrusive action? They repeat the popular refrain,”We did that to protect you and the rest of society.”  You are not only stunned but helpless; you sure want security but is it worth sacrificing your basic right to privacy?

This is the conundrum Ghanaians find themselves in, as a bill known officially as the Interception of Postal Packet and Telecommunications Messages bill, makes its way through parliament. The bill, purportedly will address the issues of crime, terrorism and money laundering.

The bill is the most controversial law to be considered by the Ghanaian legislature and continues to generate heated discussions among various Ghanaian groups. Its most contentious aspect is the leeway it accords intelligence agents to eavesdrop on private conversations for 48 hours without a court order.

This stipulation has angered those who are opposed to the bill, who also contend that it is a duplication of laws that already exist on the books to deal with the problems outlined in the Spy-bill as it is popularly known among Ghanaians.

Sternly opposed to the bill are the Ghana Bar Association, Occupy Ghana and other progressives. They do have a point; they think, rightly, that the Spy-bill is a knee-jerk reaction to recent terrorist attacks in neighboring West African nations of Mali and Burkina Fasso.

The groups strongly believe that authorities can effectively combat terrorism and other forms of crime without as much as listening in on our small talks with our friends, families and lovers. And they point out that security agents listening to private conversations for 48 hours will enable them to collect data that was not authorized, at least not by those whose phones have been tapped, ordinary citizens. This is dangerous territory, they proclaim.

While I don’t share many of the sentiments expressed by the bill’s opponents, I clearly understand their frustration with a measure that could potentially erode our individual right to privacy. No one wants government agents to be a third party to their conversations.

The government’s keen desire to create a safe environment for Ghanaians is deeply appreciated, after all crime is on the ascendancy. However, the SPY-BILL is not what the nation needs at this juncture. Our security services are already equipped with the tools to fight crime and this latest tool…spying on the private citizens of Ghana…is not what they really  need to bring the bad boys to justice.



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