Daniel Abugre Anyorigya writes: Social Media, Electoral Integrity & Ghana Police Service

“God bless our homeland Ghana and make our nation great and strong. Bold to defend forever the cause of freedom and right. Fill our heart with true humility… Help us to resist oppressors rule with all our will and might forevermore”, the six-year-old Abugre sang heartily without respect for the right pronunciation of the words at St. Claire Preparatory School’s assembly.

Politics in election 2020 has taken a new twist with politicians heavily relying on both the traditional and social media to reach voters. There is a part of media literacy this state of affairs provokes as people prepare to cast their ballot, but that may be for another day.

During election 2016, then Inspector General of the Ghana Police Service, John Kudalor, suggested closure of social media on election day as a way to avoid violence. There was a public outcry with an argument premised on infringement of human rights. Some even went as far as saying the security agency had something cynical up its sleeves. Later, the police rescinded their decision, obviously due to the uproar the suggestion caused.

Uganda, an East African country, has a history of social media ban on election day with its justification being to avert lies and violence instigated by social media users. With Yoweri Museveni as president, the country implemented a social media tax costing 200 Ugandan Shillings [GHS 0.31] per day to regulate what that country’s authorities called ‘idle talk’ on the various online platforms.

Other African countries with a history of controlling social media include Burundi which in 2005 instituted a ban on social media as protest increased against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to stand for re-election.

Also, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a Central African country passed law No.013/2002 to govern the telecommunication sector and gives power to the government to take charge of communication facilities in the interest of national security or public defence.

Uganda is not a signatory to the African Union Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection, however, Ghana is and has ratified the convention.

The African Union Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection establishes a legal framework on cyber-security and personal data protection.

While social media is free to everyone, people have little understanding of being the product to be exploited by the creators, or being the subject or victim of social media attacks, misinformation and savagery. Social media profiles its users by monitoring their online activities including their geographical location.

Specific content is channelled to their feeds which the user mistakes to be an entire reflection of the real world on the platform. It has been said that this makes the political sphere polarized; users become resistant to, unlike ideas. This reveals how social media which connects us also divides us. Rethink your usage of social media and understand that it has moved from being a tool to catch up with friends and loved ones to a manipulative entity which dictates one’s appetite and even socializes users on a number of things. This makes the media form very powerful.

Before we yell at the Ghana Police Service that “digital rights are human rights”, citizens must understand that rights go with responsibilities. Also, stakeholders must not underestimate the need to embark on media literacy and develop structures to address misinformation. Media literacy simply means verifying information before disseminating to others. Just as in journalism, there is verification, citizens have a greater responsibility to fact-check information before sharing it with others.

Indeed, Section 76 of the Electronic Communications Act, 2008 (Act 775) places a duty on all users of these platforms to be circumspect in what they disseminate: It provides:
(1) A person who by means of electronic communications service, knowingly sends a communication which is false or misleading and likely to prejudice the efficiency of life-saving service or to endanger the safety of any person, … commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than [thirty-six thousand Ghana Cedis] or to a term of imprisonment of not more than five years or both.

(2) A person is taken to know that communication is false or misleading if that person did not take reasonable steps to find out whether the communication was false, misleading, reckless or fraudulent.

In an age of misinformation, various institutions have developed programs to address digital rights abuse and curb misinformation. For instance, iWatch Africa through its Digital Initiative is constantly monitoring online abuse meted out to journalists, human rights activists, among other people. A senior colleague, Jonas Nyabor who is a Dubawa Fellow has been engaged in a series of fact-checking activities to curb misinformation. Lastly, the Media Foundation for West Africa has developed a fact-checking website for the same purpose.

Fake drugs and remedies to cure COVID-19 were largely shared on social media and this led to various complications and deaths in some cases.

The Ghana Police Service’s fight against cybercrime is slowly but steadily advancing. Over the years, citizens and highly placed politicians on social media have been victims of impersonation and hacking; a complaint by the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori Atta and National Security Minister, Albert Kan-Dapaah led to the arrest of a culprit. Many others are victims of cyber-crimes. This service of apprehending persons who engage in cybercrime is not limited to high-profile politicians but every other citizen.

These issues are not peculiar to Ghana, however, an under-resourced security service given the task to fight cybercrime means blocking of social media on election day might be an idea nursed in their hearts.

After the ratification of the African Union Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection, Ghana has instituted various units such as The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) under the Ministry of Communications, and Cyber Crime Unit of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC)

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) which is a national agency established in 2018 under the Ministry of Communications is responsible for Ghana’s cybersecurity development including cybersecurity incidents response coordination within government and the private sector.

The scope of work includes the following; phishing, hacking, denial of service, malicious code (malware, viruses, ransomware), website defacement, spamming, unauthorized access, compromised email accounts, sextortion, identity theft, and attacks on computer systems and any other cybersecurity-related incidents.

On the contrary, the following issues should not be reported; forgotten passwords or blocked/locked accounts, VOIP services not working correctly (e.g. Skype), websites access issues (website is not loading properly), internet connection problems, hardware problems, network problems, printer issues, any other non-cyber security-related issue(s).

Cyber Crime Unit of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Ghana Police Service

The Cyber Crime Unit as disclosed by the Interior Minister, Ambrose Dery on October 25, 2018, announced that the police service has “set up a cybercrime unit, headed by a technically competent police officer to deal with all such issues.”

In 2019, the Deputy Director of the Cyber Crime Unit of the Ghana Police CID Department, DSP Emmanuel Eric Gyebi announced the service’s intention to construct “cybercrime units’ which will be situated in Takoradi and Kumasi and will serve the Northern and Southern sectors respectively.”

Unrepealed silent ‘Weapon’

Data privacy is at the centre of the cybersphere. The Government of Ghana in line with the Electronic Communications Act, 2008 (Act 775) ordered network service providers to avail user information of their customers to aid the dissemination of COVID-19 related information should the need arise

The Executive Instrument (E.I.) 63 states that

“Harmful Interference
63. (1) A person shall not operate a facility, terminal equipment or other equipment in a manner that is likely to cause harmful interference except as is necessary on the grounds of national security.

Hasn’t the Ghanaian been rendered powerless to be blocked on election day?

Conclusion

Just so we do not revisit the discussion on blocking social media on this election day the relevant agencies must take steps to operationalize this law and ensure that enough deterrence is available to all those who might entertain the idea of using social media to foment trouble or pass on misinformation to the unsuspecting public.

Also, some education by the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and the relevant stakeholders on the seriousness of using social media to commit a crime will go a long way to improve the public’s understanding of the subject.

But as it stands now, blocking social media on election day does not appear to be a smart thing to do. Therefore, tools must be developed to forestall any potential havoc abuse of social media might cause on election day.

The writer, Daniel A. Anyorigya, works with Citi FM/Citi TV and citinewsroom.com and a fellow of Digital Rights Initiative of iWatch Africa.

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