Ghana’s paperless tech future at risk over citizen’s privacy concerns

Vice-president Mahamudu Bawumia, while speaking at a conference in London in October 2018, announced that Ghana was going paperless by next year by digitizing most business transactions and government services from banking to healthcare.

Bawumia told the conference that the government will electronically tag every home by early next year with GPS, making it easier to tax people and provide them with services. Even homes in Ghana’s sprawling slums will be given electronic addresses.

The government will make payments cashless for services, including permits and driving licence applications. Soon, Ghanaians could be able to draw on digital hospital and court records, while digital identification cards will be distributed nationwide, integrating passports and tax numbers in a central database. Blockchain – the ledger that underpins cryptocurrencies – could act as the secure vehicle for these records.

All of this could streamline services and, if all goes according to plan, hasten Ghana’s impressive growth trajectory. The move online could also have significant benefits in safeguarding institutions and reducing corruption, according to analysts.

“To combat fraud and corruption, paperless transactions tracked on the blockchain can be used,” says Alice Namuli Blazevic, a partner at Katende, Ssempebwa & Company Advocates in Uganda and an expert in technology law. “That way, all payments for public sector services are easily tracked and auditable.”

In mobile payments, Accra is encouraging banks and telecommunications companies to adopt mobile wallets in a bid to turn smartphones nationwide into bank accounts.

With 19m mobile phone subscribers with a penetration rate of 67% – far above the average of 44% in sub-Saharan Africa, according to GSMA, Ghana is an ideal candidate for the elimination of paper services. Zeepay, which operates in 19 other African countries, from Cameroon to Zimbabwe, offers financial inclusion with a range of digital services provides mobile wallet to over 1million people, in Ghana alone.

Ghana’s ambitions also extends to real estate and land ownership. More than eight in 10 landowners lack titles, according to the land commission, and single pieces of land often have multiple title deeds. Ghanaian startup Bitland, which is planning to enter Nigeria and Kenya this year, is using a digital ledger to bring integrity to land records, after brokering verbal deals between farmers and land-owning chiefs.

To solve the problem of fraud in the real estate industry, the government of Ghana is using local tech startups to develop blockchain systems that can offer landowners a trusted secure system,” says Blazevic.Zeepay.

The country trialled blockchain technology during its parliamentary elections in 2018, using a system developed by Swiss tech firm Agora which was rolled out across 280 polling stations. It could pave the way for technological gains that would increase confidence and transparency in future elections on the continent.

CITIZEN’S PRIVACY CONCERNS

A Data Protection Commission was launched in 2012 to protect personal data, but the ever-changing nature of technology means that regulators must constantly advance their knowledge.

A special investigation by Ghana’s auditor general in 2018, found that the Electoral Commission (EC) had sold voter data to an Accra-based software development company that subsequently sold it on to banks and insurance firms.

Though The EC has denied any wrongdoing, the news however, fuelled concerns around privacy and digital freedom just as Ghana embraces an online future that it hopes will improve everyday life for millions of citizens.

Commenting on situations like this, Blazevic says;

“Although many people on the continent are advocating for the adoption of blockchain technology because of the advantages it offers, including decentralisation, security and transparency, there are also some sceptics who believe that the decentralised characteristic infringes on user privacy where a user’s transaction history would be accessible to anyone,”

However, the Data Protection Commission has revoked the license to operate of Bysystem, the software company involved in the voter data case, pending investigations, while MPs have urged the Electoral Commission to revoke its contract. As the Data Protection Commission moves forward, lessons learned in the case could inform how Ghana embraces its tech future.

Ghana’s paperless tech future at risk over citizen's privacy concerns 2

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