General News of Thursday, 13 July 2017
Vice Chairman of IMANI Ghana, Kofi Bentil has admonished government to take on the task of monitoring the social media activities of Ghanaians in secrecy.
According to him, it is a relevant part of governance that a surveillance programme be initiated and implemented to monitor all communication platforms. He was however emphatic on the point that this should be done at the blind side of Ghanaians.
Speaking on the relevance of internet as regarding personal freedoms and state security, Kofi Bentil stated that espionage or spying as long as is done in the country’s interest, is justified. His point was that though Ghanaians deserve the unreserved right to have their privacy and or freedom as far as communication on social media is concerned, it is equally important that government monitors these conversations in the interest of the country.
“I’m a champion for freedom and I want freedom, but that is why there is espionage, that is why there are secret services, that is why more than 30% of governments do in the area of security is not above board, so don’t let me know you are tapping my phone or you are reading my social media page but do it because you are government.
Mr. Bentil maintained that it is one way government can monitor possible threats from enemies and or competitors to be able to have foreknowledge and avert possible attacks in the future.
“Social media mimics real life so if you are trying to understand somebody or know what they are doing or who they hang with or their views about certain things, it is fundamental that you go and check them out, even use espionage and go beyond what is normally acceptable in terms of infringing on their freedoms, that is because you are government and you must know that if you are found out, then you are going to be in trouble”.
He however indicated that government must not be intrusive in the process of retrieving information.
“Do it in a way that is not intrusive”, he said.
Kofi Bentil who was one of the key advocates against the spy bill explained that his problem would be for government to make a law to enable security agencies to manipulate telecommunication messages, he simply believes government should ‘spy’ but do it “behind the scenes”.
Mr. Bentil was speaking at event organised by IMANI Africa at the Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City in Accra Wednesday, July 12, 2017 on the theme, “Governance in the age of social media”.
The spy bill
The Postal Packets and Telecommunication Messages Bill, otherwise known as the “spy bill” was proposed by government in 2016 to be passed.
The bill if passed, would have allowed security agencies access to listen, tap, copy, record and intercept telecommunication messages of individuals who pose a threat to national security.
The Interior Ministry, which is pushing for the bill to be passed, insisted that it will facilitate efforts to strengthen national security and tackle piracy, money laundering and terrorism.
But Kofi Bentil made a hard case against government’s proposed law to enable security agencies tap into telecommunication messages in the country. His argument was that, given the flagrant abuse of some of the existing legislature by the governments over the years, passage of the Postal Packets and Telecommunication Messages Bill will open the floodgates of abuse of the right to privacy and liberty.
Social media Surveillance of Ghanaians
It would be recalled that information went rife earlier this year, suggesting that the Ministry of Interior was involved in the monitoring of phone calls and social media activities of Ghanaians.
The notice on the various social media platforms read:
Ministry of Interior Regulation
“From tomorrow onwards there are new communication regulations. All calls are recorded. All phone call recordings saved Whatsapp is monitored Twitter is monitored Facebook is monitored All social media and forums are monitored Inform those who do not know. Your devices are connected to ministry systems. Take care not to send unnecessary messages. Inform your children about this and to take care.”
The Ministry of Interior however came out to deny the allegations and issued a statement to that effect. The statement read:
“The Ministry wishes to assure the general public that, no one’s communication device, be it mobile hand device, Personal Computer etc. is connected to any system at the Ministry of the Interior.”
“In as much as the safety, peace, and security of citizens is our primary concern, we will not do anything tantamount to the invasion of the privacy of citizenry and an affront on the respect of the fundamental human rights of the citizenry”