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‘Spy Bill’: Gov’t wants to ‘dodge’ judges but you can’t ‘dodge’ the constitution

IMANI Vice-President Kofi Bentil says the 1992 constitution stands in direct opposition to a bill introduced by government seeking to listen in to private conversations.

Kofi Bentil says passing the Postal Packet and Telecommunications Message bill into law will still be an illegal law.

Although, security agencies under the 2008 Terrorism Law can obtain a warrant to intercept communications, the new bill branded the ‘Spy bill’ removes the need for a warrant from court.

It however demands that government operatives come to court after 48 hours to justify why they intercepted the communication of a private citizen they suspect of engaging in crime.

But the bill has sparked opposition from the Minority in Parliament and further opposition from sections of the Ghanaian public.

At a Joy FM’s Thought Leadership series dedicated to the discussion on the propriety of the bill, Kofi Bentil, a leading voice against the bill restated his position that “the law can bring no good it can only bring bad”.

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He is convinced that government wants to “bypass” the need to obtain permission from judges but it can never ‘dodge’ the enshrined provisions of the 1992 constitution protecting privacy.

He says the right to privacy as detailed in Article 18 can never be taken away by any new law because it is a fundamental human right.  The referred article states:

18. (2) No person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of his home, property, correspondence or communication except in accordance with law and as may be necessary in a free and democratic society for public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the protection of the rights or freedoms of others 

Although the article contains a caveat giving conditions under which this right can be suspended, the lawyer said the phrase “in accordance with law” should not be misinterpreted to mean that if there is a law that permits the interception of communication then the action is lawful.

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Kofi Bentil explained, the phrase ‘in accordance with law’ means the new law must be compatible with the rule of law. The rule of law protects a citizen from being abused based on the discretion of the government.

But Kofi Bentil believes this abuse is exactly what the Postal Packet and Telecommunications bill is about and exactly what the rule of law is against.

The policy expert who has already signalled he will go to the Supreme Court to strike out the law if it is passed, said every citizen’s right to liberty stands endangered.

For him critical journalists, opposition politicians will be hunted down through the law and the private life including marital and extra-marital relationships will be laid bare before listening ears and watching eyes of security operatives.

He finds these possibilities revolting.

The Deputy Interior minister James Agalga has however rationalised the law. He explained that the novel aim of the law is to help prevent crime instead of responding to crime already committed. Instead of a reactionary response to crime from security agencies, the law will allow them to be much more proactive.

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This could signal a break-through in fighting terrorism, money-laundering, drug, human and arms trafficking, armed robbery, corruption, he highlighted.

“Think about the benefits” James Agalga dismissed pessimist pour downs on the law’s noble objective.

More soon…