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Govt withdraws "Spy Bill" from Parliament

BY: Mark Anthony Vinokor

The government yesterday replaced the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages Bill, 2016, which was before Parliament with a new one following criticisms raised against the old version of the bill.

The Deputy Minister of the Interior, Mr James Agalga, who withdrew the old bill, said the withdrawal had been necessitated by certain critical issues that came up during the consideration of the bill by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Defence and the Interior.

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He added that the various memoranda submitted by interest groups had also made it imperative for the government to withdraw the bill.

Following his application, the Speaker, Mr Edward Doe Adjaho, announced that the bill had, as a consequence, been withdrawn.

But before the Speaker could proceed to announce the withdrawal, the member for Sekondi, Papa Owusu Ankomah, rose to his feet on a matter of procedure.

He quoted Standing Order 132 of Parliament and said the Speaker and the Deputy Minister of the Interior had failed to act according to the rules.

He argued that by that particular order, the application should have been made either before the commencement of public business or at the commencement of any stage of the bill.

But Mr Adjaho stated, in defence of his action, that at the time he admitted the application public business had not commenced.

The Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages Bill, 2016, is to enact legislation for the lawful interception of postal packets and telecommunication messages for the purpose of fighting crime and suppressing organised crime.

The bill is expected to empower the security agencies to intercept messages related to or linked to money laundering, terrorism, narcotic trafficking, identity theft and generally for the protection of national security.

Background

According to the memorandum to the bill, dated July 16, 2015 and signed by the then Minister of the Interior, Mr Mark Owen Woyongo, the issue of armed robbery, terrorism, money laundering and narcotic drug trafficking had become a real threat to public order and the safety and well-being of individual citizens in Ghana, as well as in West Africa.

It said those activities were a threat to life and created disorder, fear and insecurity and also undermined the confidence of investors.

"People involved in these activities rely on postal communication and information technology systems to escape the surveillance of law enforcement agencies," it said.