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Opinions of Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

Cyber-Crime in Ghana

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi

5th August 2013

It is said that an idle hand will find something to do, good or evil. Cyber-crime is the crime committed on the internet, whereby people create a spam or fake message and send unsolicited messages to as many email addresses as possible, by scouring and searching through the internet.

These internet criminals or hoodlums engage in identity theft, whereby they send you a message that you have won a huge sum of money through online lottery, or they work in a bank in Benin or Burkina Faso, and they are aware of a dormant huge deposit of money, whose owner was involved in a plane accident many years ago, or that they are the son or daughter of late Colonel Gaddafi, or some eminent personage who left some endowment to be bestowed on you, a named beneficiary. Meanwhile, you, a black person, have no blood familial connections to the said demised white personage.

They ask you for your personal details so that they can send the money direct to your bank account. Others send you messages that will ask you to submit an application so that if you pay them a certain sum of money through your Visacard or Paypal, they will send you an online application or software which you can use to direct a lot of traffic to your online website, or software which you can use to direct a lot of traffic to your online account, and make a lot of money.

These scammers are young men who are computer savvy and nerds. They are called Sakawa in Ghana. Recently, I read online that Ghana is number one in Africa for cyber-crime, and number seven in the world. If you visit internet cafes in Accra, Winneba, and other places in Ghana, you will find young adults who spend days on end surfing and browsing, doing what they know best. Some of them even pretend they are ladies who seek friendship with men abroad. Some undiscerning guys abroad bite their carefully-couched words. Through deceit, these unemployed young men make a living.

It has surfaced that some of these criminals are Nigerian 419s who have relocated to Ghana. It will be better that our forensic department in the police service in Ghana mount a 24- hour surveillance of these cyber criminals, who commit cyber-crime in cyber space. Perhaps, there is need to deploy some of these young men and train them in some online outsourced work, just as in India, many companies in the West outsource and offshore their customer calls to Indian Companies.

We have a lot of IT talent in Ghana but then these young guys have nothing productive to do other than resorting to cyber-crime. Some of them engage in pornography, while others engage in crimes such as hacking, paedophile, among others. Now that Ghana has one of the fastest internet connectivity in Africa, and internet access is relatively cheaper, there is need to properly equip our internet police surveillance unit in Ghana.

There are now many gadgets which can access the internet via cell phones, i-pads, tablets, among others. We should check our internet cafes and ensure that they post signs around the cafés, asking users to be ethical in their access of the internet. There are many other ways we can transform the negative use of the internet into positive advantages in the fields of e-health, e -learning, e-tourism, e-transport, home-working or telecommuting, e-governance, e-tailing, e-marketing, e-agriculture, and for driving SMEs.

Last year June, when I was in Accra, I was very much encouraged when I saw a posse of young school girls who came into the cyber café I was in, around the Main Post Office area in Accra, ostensibly, they had come there to do research or access their emails.

We need to empower our school kids with IT knowledge and e-books. I can bet that there are many people in Ghana out there, who know little about how to use the computer, or who do not have access to a computer. We should encourage our school kids to have e-books, e-libraries and state-of-the-art IT laboratories, because if they do not get up to speed with global trends, they will be left behind by the rest of the world in the global village, with its gulf of global divide.

I remember in the 60s, I used to visit the library at Sufflet House in Winneba to borrow books to read. Now we have e-libraries online, which have e-books, some of which are for free. Children can access them anytime anywhere, wherever there is electricity. This is where we need to increase our sources of power, by resorting to the use of alternate sources, such as solar, wind, tidal, biomass, biofuel, gas, geothermal and thermal energy sources.

In conclusion, the law on cyber-crime should be beefed up to avoid having cyber criminals who tarnish our image at home and abroad. Besides, we should equip our forensic department in the police to intensify surveillance of online activities, under the ambit of the Freedom of Information Law. This should not be misconstrued as intrusion and invasion into our privacy.

However, this is a dilemma facing governments the world over, whereby there is need on the one hand, to preserve and balance confidentiality and privacy of an individual's communication, and on the other hand, secure the security and well-being of the state against terrorists, saboteurs and criminals.

Contact: © 2013 The author is a Senior Lecturer at ZCAS, Lusaka, Zambia