Accra, March 14, GNA – Ghana is ranked 93rd on the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) Report for 2015. Switzerland is ranked immediately below us, and Nigeria is ranked 3 after Afghanistan. Not surprisingly. Iraq is ranked first, whilst the United States and the United Kingdom are ranked 28 & 35 respectively
The GTI is a comprehensive study which accounts for the direct and indirect impact of terrorism in 162 countries in terms of its effect on lives lost, injuries, property damage and the psychological after effects of terrorism. In plain language, a country’s GTI gives a very fair indication of the levels and impacts of terrorist activity within it
So you would be right to expect that our neighbour Nigeria, and of course the United States and the United Kingdom, both grappling with the threats and activities of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and assorted fundamentalist muftis, would be more concerned about preventing terrorist activity against them, and resorting to abuses of fundamental rights of their citizens in the name of the all embracing ‘national security needs’
As I opined during the brouhaha on GITMO, and confirmed by our GTI ranking, we have very little to worry about terrorism on our shores. That being so, why then is our government proposing to deprive we the citizens of Ghana of fundamental rights that the governments of the US, the UK and many more vulnerable states cannot impose on their citizens without legal supervision?
Ghana’s Government is in an indecent haste to rush a bill through Parliament that would give them powers that countries which face clear and present everyday dangers of terrorism have not allowed their governments to exercise over them. Our government proposes to attack one of our most cherished and fundamental rights on the flimsy excuse that it needs to protect the now “terrorism-benign” citizens and public of Oman Ghana from the scourge of terrorism.
The “Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunication Messages Bill” (IPPTMB), seeks to give our government the power to listen into our conversations without first gaining the prior approval of a court. Additionally, the bill seeks to dilute the oversight and authority required by the Executive to make this unconscionable and totally outrageous invasion of our right to privacy.
Two basic questions exciting many of us are: 1) “What is the need for this law?; and, 2) “Why the rush to push this law down our throat now?. In my humble view, the unequivocal answers to both questions are that. 1) There is no need for the proposed law; and 2) The undue haste has nothing to do with Oman Ghana in imminent danger of an attack by Al-Qaeda or ISIS.
’Fortunately since the proposed law was unearthed, many very knowledgeable Ghanaians have pointed out that there are enough and sufficient laws already on our books that give the Government powers to limit our freedoms and rights in the public interest. I would refer those who seek further and better particulars to a recent article co-authored by Ace Ankomah, and petition before Parliament by the host of “Newsfile” and prominent public interest lawyer, Sampson Lardy.
Since the proposed law does not seek to abolish nor amend any of the existing statutes, it seems to me pointless to promote a new law whose primary purpose is to fill a non-existent threat and gap of terrorism threat to our nation, and most unacceptably to impose and exercise powers that nations who face and experience acts of terrorism do not allow their governments to exercise without checks and balances.
I think we can all agree that the United Kingdom and the United States of America are two global nations having to deal with terrorism every day, especially since the events of 11 September 2001, in the US and 7 July 2005, in the UK. In both countries, the governments have sought to extend they powers of intrusion and invasion into the fundamental rights of their citizens in the name of protection public order. But it is instrumental to note that in neither of these countries, are the national intelligence agencies allowed free and unfettered right to listen into people’s private conversations and intercept their private mail, as the Government of Ghana wants to do.
Coincidentally the British Govt is preparing to reintroduce a Bill popularly known as the “Snoopers Charter”, which seeks to give the UK Govt and Intelligence agencies sweeping powers to “access everyone’s web browsing histories and to hack into phones”. Even though the government says it has strengthened “safeguards, enhanced privacy protections and bolstered oversight arrangements”, in response to 122 recommendations from committee of MPs, there is still great opposition to the revised – bill because it is still not thought as providing sufficient protection for the privacy rights of the British
On the specific issue of phone tapping, the UK Govt has proposed that the intelligence agencies would require a “double-lock” warrant with both ministerial authorisation and judicial approval, before listening into the conversation of citizens. And even then, these are not considered sufficient protection.
Many of us are fascinated by the ongoing tussle between Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation into accessing the phone of a dead terrorist. Even where there is no argument about the act and ownership, there is a very major discussion on the Apple’s insistence on the protection of encryption technology and the argument of access to private data in the public interest.
So what excuse do we have here in Ghana for the government’s wish to snoop on our private conversation without any prior checks? Zilch, I would suggest, except to suggest that there must be a hidden and very sinister intent to gain undue political advantage never mind the consequences.
The annoying thing about Governments is that when they are seeking our votes to get into power, they remember the clear statement in our constitution that they must exercise “power in our name and on our behalf”. Well, just in case it needs reminding, in our name is best served by letting us know more and more about how they are exercising the powers we have given them on our behalf. It has nothing to do with seeking to oppress us and deny our fundamental rights and freedoms.
So let Ghana’s Parliament accelerate the passage of the 13 year old gestation “Right to Information Bill” and withdraw the patently unjustifiable and half-baked IPPTMB. If the Govt attempts to use its majority to muscle in the bill, the Opposition must oppose on principle, and promise to abolish it as its first piece of legislation if it should win power.
If we do not get our Parliament to act on our behalf, civil society must continue to lead the fight against this fundamental attack on our rights. This fight must include seeking legal redress if that is what it will take to establish the proper meaning and intent of “in our name and on our behalf”. Of course, we should not rule out vigorous civil action as and when necessary.
It has been observed that “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few”. In the words of a recent editorial by the UK Guardian newspaper, we the people of Ghana need to “keep a vigilant eye on the snoopers”.
Our governments are sometimes “toono” and full of grandiosity and pomposity into thinking that they must be seen to be imitating and even exceeding the actions of those who have real and genuine causes for concern. As a country that begs for almost everything, we must know our limitations and deal with the real issue of “improving the wellbeing” of Ghanaians, and stop trying to punch above our weight.
* (The author is Chief Policy Analyst, Ghana Institute for Public Policy Options)