New report reveals Ghana’s democratic ranking, one of the highest in Africa, is at risk of decline as the government increases its possession of surveillance technologies, coinciding with the arrest of journalists and civil society campaigners.
The report published by the Institute of Development Studies and the African Digital Rights Network details Ghana’s use of surveillance technologies, where known contracts with multiple overseas companies totalled US$184m. The majority has been spent on implementing a so-called safe city project with a CCTV component powered by Chinese company Huawei’s facial recognition AI. Additionally, multiple new biometric identification systems require citizens to provide facial recognition or fingerprint biometrics.
Ghana has previously been recognised as one of Africa’s most politically open and free countries, but recent and rapid expansion of public space surveillance have given cause for concern. The government is using this technology to single out citizens for harassment, detention and torture for expressing opposing views, violating international human rights law and the technology companies’ policies.
Oyewole Adekunle Oladapo, co-author, who works in the Department of Communication and Language Arts at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, said:
“As the government increases its possession of surveillance technologies, Ghana’s democratic profile has been declining and is at risk. We need to increase public awareness of expanding surveillance and the digital rights implications of safe cities and biometric identification.
“We need much greater transparency regarding the procurement of surveillance technologies and their use. Publications of annual reports by an independent oversight body could be one solution to increase transparency. Furthermore, for civil society to be able to hold the government accountable, independent judiciary and media are essential.”
The research is the first comprehensive study of the supply of surveillance technology to governments in Africa to monitor their own citizens – often in violation of constitutional, international, and domestic law – suppressing democratic debate or political challenge.
Entitled, Mapping the Supply of Surveillance Technologies to Africa it reveals that governments in Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, Malawi, and Zambia are collectively spending at least $1bn a year on digital surveillance technology contracts with companies in the US, UK, China, EU and Israel.
The report is published at a time of increasing unease about the checks and balances for the use of AI, and the potential for misuse by increasingly authoritarian governments. Based on the research findings, the report calls for the abolition of rights-violating surveillance technologies and for the defunding of mass surveillance of citizens.
Article 18 of Ghana’s constitution prohibits state interference with citizens’ privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and the government generally respects these prohibitions in practice. However, the recent Pegasus mobile spyware cases have shown that Ghana is not completely free of state surveillance.
The report shares the case study of Emmanuel Ajarfor Abugri, who along with his journalist colleague were arrested and tortured by security agents in Ghana. They had their phones and laptops confiscated and accessed by police officers. Upon their release from custody, only their phones were returned but the police kept their laptops.