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Ghana’s mixed track record with social media regulation

Ghana , 15 Apr 2021

Social network Twitter this week announced its Africa headquarters will be set up in Ghana, a decision it said was based on the West African country’s support of free speech.

“As a champion for democracy, Ghana is a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet, of which Twitter is also an advocate,” Twitter stated.

However, the country has on previous occasions made headlines that link it to social media clampdowns and threats to shut down the internet.

In February 2020, local media in Ghana reported the Nana Akufo-Addo-led government threatened to clampdown on social media in response to criticism it received online.

Communication Minister Ursula Owusu-Ekuful urged social media operators to self-regulate. “If we don’t self-regulate the state will be compelled to set in place the mechanisms to regulate our usage of the internet,” said Owusu-Ekuful.

In 2019, the government said it was working with the Attorney General, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, and others, to introduce new laws to criminalise the sharing of inappropriate content on social media, even though the country already had cybersecurity laws in place.

A 2017 report released by the African Freedom of Expression Exchange, Internet Freedom in Africa, raised concern over Section 60 of Ghana's Data Protection Act of 2012 which allows the government to access personal data of individuals even without a warrant or judicial approval in the interest of protecting national security.

“The provision can be abused by the government who alone determines what constitutes a threat to national security,” the report stated.

Moreover, Under Section 100 of the Electronic Communications Act 2008 Ghana's president can request telecommunications service providers to intercept communications or provide user information in aid of law enforcement or national security.

“This is problematic as it could be abused to target the activities of dissidents. To fully protect individual liberties, every act of interference in private communications and disclosure of personal data must be authorised by the court,” stated the African Freedom of Expression Exchange.

In response to Twitter’s intention to set up its Africa HQ in Ghana, Akufo-Addo said the decision was an expression of “the confidence reposed” in Ghana. “This is the start of a beautiful partnership between Twitter and Ghana, which is critical for the development of Ghana’s hugely important tech sector. These are exciting times to be in, and to do business in Ghana,” he said.

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