Attorney-General sued over ‘new powers’ for president on coronavirus fight
The Attorney-General has been dragged to the High Court over the President’s newfound powers, that may allow him to track everyone’s calls and check financial details at will.
Why emergency powers to fight coronavirus?
The President obtained emergency powers after Parliament passed the Imposition of Restrictions Act, 2020 (Act 1012) as government battles the coronavirus outbreak after Ghana recorded its first case on March 12.
The President then placed restrictions on public gatherings as the virus spreads through physical contact.
Borders have since been closed while public workers have been largely asked to stay home.
The restrictions have limited the right to education as schools have been closed, the freedom of religion as services at churches and mosques have been suspended for the next four weeks.
Some cultural practices such as funeral and burials have been restricted as only 25 people are allowed to gather for a private burial.
There are also restrictions on freedom of association as conferences, workshops have been suspended while political activities and freedom of expression seen in the holding of rallies and demonstrations have also suffered limitations.
The largest impact of the restrictions is seen in the freedom of movement as Ghana is under a partial lockdown and its borders closed.
What are the emergency powers?
The Executive Instrument 63 derives its powers from Section 100 of the Electronic Communications Act, 2008 (Act 775).
It grants the President wide powers: He or his representatives can “make written requests and issue orders to operators or providers of electronic communication networks or services and require them to intercept communications, provide any user information or otherwise in aid of law enforcement or national security.”
A senior lecturer at the University of Ghana, Prof. Kwadwo Appiagyei-Atua, in an article, explained that the EI places, “an obligation on telecommunication companies to put the services of the network provider at the disposal of the state for mass dissemination of information to the public in the case of an emergency, including a public health emergency.”
“They are also obligated to make available all caller and called numbers, merchant codes, roaming files and location log files to the National Communications Authority,” he wrote.
Another legal practitioner, Samson Lardy Anyenini has observed the president may be joining the list of leaders using the coronavirus pandemic to become despots.
Why the government has been sued?
A Ghanaian legal practitioner, Francis Kwarteng Arthur, in an application to the High Court, said the President’s emergency powers was an abuse of his fundamental human right, specifically, his right to privacy.
President Nana Akufo-Addo on March 23, 2020, issued an Executive Instrument empowering the government to allow telcos to release certain personal information of their subscribers.
In an era of mobile money technology, it also includes financial details of subscribers.
Since the E.I 63 came into effect, Kelni GVG, a private company with a contract with the government to monitor call data has written to all telcos to make available personal information of subscribers including their mobile money transfer data.
The applicant, who said he uses MTN and Vodafone, said the 1992 constitution protected his personal information with the telcos from being given to third parties “without recourse to law or laid down procedure or without my express permission or consent.”
He said the President’s directives under EI 63 and its implementation violates and were likely to violate his fundamental human right to administrative justice, privacy, equality or non-discrimination.
Francis Arthur wants an order of perpetual injunction to restrain the president and the government from accessing his personal data and also restrain Vodafone and MTN from giving it up.
The applicant is represented by Justice Srem-Sai while a regulator, National Communications Authority and Kelni GVG have been joined in the suit.