Privacy and the Law in Ghana: Issues of Human Rights Violations

  1. 1.      An overview

The present article reflects the growing importance, diversity and complexity of fundamental human right in Ghana in recent times when government agents are perceived to be secretly engaged in wire-tapping or in control of personal information of people without their consent.  With the passing of Whistleblowers Act, (720) in 2006 by parliament, violations of privacy remain a serious concern to Ghanaians. This law provides for the manner in which individuals may, in public interest, disclose information that relates to unlawful or other illegal conduct or corrupt practices of others–dealing with six specific types of impropriety. However, apart from challenges of enforcement it faces challenges from civil and human rights groups that believe the Whistleblower Act violets some fundamental human rights of individuals such as freedom of speech which the 1992 Constitution has guaranteed. Also many other existing laws have not kept up with the technological development, leaving significant gaps in protections while the enforcement and intelligence agencies have been given exemptions.

Privacy is a fundamental human right recognized in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in many other international and regional treaties. Privacy underpins human rights issues of the contemporary time.

Nearly every country in the world recognizes a right of inviolability of the home, property, and secrecy of communication. Most newly-written Constitution such as South Africa’s and Hungary’s include specific rights to access and control one’s personal information. In countries where privacy is not explicitly recognized in the Constitution, such as the United States, Ireland and India, the courts have found that right in other provisions. In many countries, international agreements that recognize privacy right such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966, have been adopted into their national laws and Ghana is not excluded.

Notwithstanding this wide recognition and constitutional guarantees, there are widespread violations of laws relating to surveillance of communications, even in the most democratic countries.  The U.S. Department’s annual review of human rights violations finds that over 90 countries engage in illegally monitoring the communications of political opponents, human rights workers, journalist and labour organizers (GILC Report, 2007). Before I turn to examine what the situation is like in Ghana, it is important to look at “privacy” from different perspectives. This is because, the various concepts on privacy form the basis of its crystallization into legal right.

  1. 2.      The concept of “Privacy” as a right

The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines “privacy” simply as the state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people.

The Calcutta Committee in the UK defines it legally as “the right of the individual to be protected against intrusion into his personal life or affairs, or those of his family, by direct physical means or by publication of information” (Report of the Committee, QC, 1990 London: HMSO, p.7)

Among all the human rights in the international instruments, privacy is perhaps …


I Cannot Remember a Thing. Am I Losing Brain Cells?

The real reason for knowledge decline in the aging brain is now thought to be small changes in the structure, function and communication between brain cells rather than their complete loss. Neurons typically have many branches allowing for multiple points of connection with other neurons to form complex circuits. But as we age, scientists have found that neurons lose a lot of their branches and together with specific chemical changes in the neurons, these subtle structural changes alter their functioning. Certain regions of the brain are more susceptible to these age related changes than others leading to a decline in some mental faculties but not others. But the good news is that many studies have shown that the brain remains capable of regrowth and learning.

It wasn’t until 1998, that researchers led by Peter Eriksson of the Sahlgrenska University Hospital in G`teborg, Sweden and Fred H. Gage of the Salk Institute in San Diego [1], California first found evidence of new neurons being produced in the brains of adult humans as old as 72 years of age! Research over the last decade has produced growing evidence that the adult human brain in fact creates new neurons throughout our lifespan, overturning decades of dogma that the cells you have at birth are about all you’ll ever have, and a neuron lost is lost forever.

This “neurogenesis”, or creation of new neurons, arises from neural stem cells that exist in the adult human brain. The most active area of neurogenesis is the hippocampus, a region deep within the brain involved in learning and memory. Research shows that the hippocampus produces thousands of new cells each day. Although many die within weeks of their birth, recent findings show that many of these new neurons survive and integrate themselves into the working brain, suggesting the potential for a self-healing brain. To live and become part of the working brain, a new neuron needs connections with other neurons. Without these connections, neurons wither and die.

Several factors can determine whether a new neuron integrates into the existing brain circuitry. One of these is learning and another one we know of is exercise.

Recent animal studies have shown a correlation between learning and new neurons surviving in the hippocampus. After teaching rodents a variety of tasks that engaged a range of brain areas, scientists found that, generally, the more the animal learned, the more neurons survived in the hippocampus. Cells that were born before the learning experience were more likely to survive to become neurons, but only if the animals actually learned. The increase in survival occurred with tasks that depended on the hippocampus as well as those that required significant effort to learn [2].

Everybody knows that exercise is good for your heart, but in recent years, compelling evidence has shown that exercise is also good for your brain. Experiments have found that mice that used a running wheel had about twice as many new hippocampal neurons as mice that didn’t exercise. Learning may still …