Development Discourse with Amos Safo: Digitalisation and the battle against crime  

Development Discourse with Amos Safo Digitalisation and the battle against crime  
Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia

One of the highlights of Vice President Dr. Bawumia’s excellent speech on digitalising is its potential to help fight both cybercrime and physical crime.

The Vice President stated that the integration of national databases will bring transparency, discipline and efficiency into the economy, as well as help the security agencies to track down criminals.

As Dr. Bawumia noted: “Without digitalisation, we won’t be able to reap the full benefits of human progress. Digitalisation is vital in transforming social services, finance, health, education and agriculture”.

Dr. Bawumia explained that in many advanced countries the widespread use of CCTV cameras restricts the movements and activities of criminals and potential criminals. According to him at the beginning of 2017, Ghana only had 800 CCTV cameras in operation. The shortfall compelled government to install 10,000 CCTV cameras since 2017.  “The cameras have helped the police to solve a number of crimes – such as the arrest of suspects in a recent bullion-van robbery,” the Vice President told his audience.

He further noted that under the Data Protection Act, employers will be able to undertake online background and security checks on prospective employees before deciding to employ them. In 2018 Ghana, enacted the Cyber Security Act 1038, 2020, which provides for establishment of the Cyber Security Authority: to among other functions regulate cybersecurity activities in the country; promote the development of cybersecurity in the country; and to provide for related matters.

Section 45 (1) provides that the Cybersecurity Authority may establish a cybersecurity incident monitoring and response system. (2) The Authority shall implement the relevant technical measures to ensure an effective cybersecurity incident monitoring and response system.

In his speech, Dr. Bawumia cited a case in which – in a western country – a celebrity was recently arrested for opening three bank accounts using different business names and fake identity documents. According to him, the celebrity’s fraudulent deal was possible because the databases between the bank account and identity systems, even in that advanced country, were not integrated. “In Ghana, we are promoting integration between the Ghanacard and banks to protect banks and customers from such fraud.”

Digitalisation of crime?

Despite the infinite benefits of digitalisation to individuals and economies, there are growing fears that technological advances are opening avenues for more cybercrimes. Global forecasts suggest that the number of Internet-connected devices, currently at 15 billion, could reach 200 billion by the end of 2022. This trend could expose more Internet users and businesses to cybercrime and cyber-hacking globally.

The notion is that as more devices and individuals are being connected to cyberspace, more people are also being exposed to online risks. The digital revolution has made it more pressing for data protection policies to be enacted by governments. The future of data aggregation and personalisation requires the adoption of common legal frameworks to ensure security and privacy.

Defence attacks

Furthermore, some security analysts forecast that the advancements in digitisation might lure criminals to target defence establishments. Threats such as cyber-jacking and human malware could lead to physical injury as well as loss of life. Also, there are usually multiple agencies responsible for cyber security, which may not be well coordinated to match the rising threat of cybercriminals.

While security installations might be at risk, citizens and civil society organisations might demand greater transparency as well as accountability from government and service providers; they may be demanding for some kind of data autonomy in future. Hence, it is important for increased data protection and a more open governance culture. The Ghana government appears to be ahead with its enactment of the Data Protection Act.

Digitalisation and law enforcement

According to technology analysts, digitalisation presents a unique challenge to law enforcement agencies. All over the world, criminals are harnessing digital technology to expand their reach and increase the impact of their crimes. This emerging threat requires the urgent equipping of police forces for modern crime prevention. Undoubtedly, advances in technology also present law enforcement agencies with an enormous opportunity to transform how they track and fight crime.

While digitalisation may be an avenue for crime to thrive, it also highlights the crucial role that technology will play in the future of modern crime prevention. Thus, government as a matter of urgency needs to invest in crime-fighting technology and enable our police forces to effectively fight crime and restore confidence in the public.

One of the assets government needs to prioritise is digitalisation of video footage. In the advanced countries, this has enabled live-streaming of CCTV footage into control rooms and alarm-monitoring stations. Live-streaming CCTV could reduce the cost of physical responses at crime scenes, and also protect security personnel from unnecessary harm.

Digital Skills in Policing

To fully benefit from the new technology solutions, it is critical that police officers have the requisite digital skills to be effective. In addition, law-enforcement agencies need to upgrade themselves with the latest technologies – such as artificial intelligence and robotics – to better tackle future cybercrime. Internet protocol (IP) address or source tracing remains a challenge due to use of proxies, virtual private networks (VPNs) or Tor relay points. For this reason, our experts need to deploy appropriate technology to tackle it.  Amid the euphoria of digitalisation in Ghana, it is important for government to be proactive in safeguarding online users; especially businesses which might be prone to cyber-attacks.  A report on crime-reporting indicates that digitalising CCTV footage has the potential to transform policing; and in doing so deter future criminals.

Identity management

In many contexts, criminals have explored identity-theft and espionage to either launch attacks using stolen data or through direct extortion from individuals and businesses. The activities of 419 scammers operating within Africa have become a source of global concern. Some 419 scammers had used Ghana as a safe haven until recently, when the security agencies mounted a campaign to combat their activities. Predictably, cyber-attacks in the future will be geared toward industries of prime importance such as power, energy, oil and nuclear power.

Such attacks can disrupt the critical infrastructure of a country, especially if done through a state-sponsored platform.  Since digitalisation will enable future cybercriminals to be more focused, criminals might cooperate and collaborate with other cybercriminals to launch more sophisticated attacks on individuals and businesses. For instance, instead of physically hijacking a plane, cybercriminals can hack into the management systems of aircraft and hijack or crash a plane. It is therefore important that identities and reputations are well managed and integrated into a single platform. This will enable businesses, industries, governments and citizens to be protected from cybercriminals and hackers.

Perhaps prioritisation of the Ghanacard project by government is a prudent and timely policy. According to Dr. Bawumia, the card has world-class features and captures 10 fingerprints as well as the iris of individuals. It is also consistent with ECOWAS standards and bears the ECOWAS logo, and is compatible with any reader that is compliant with EMV contactless communication protocol.

So far, 15.5 million people have been enrolled onto the Ghanacard by the NIA, and most of the population will be enrolled by 2022. NIA will open an additional 291 offices tomorrow across all districts and regions to complete the exercise. Issuance of the Ghanacard has provided Ghana with a database that will be the anchor for all transactions in the future, providing a unique identity to all individuals.

As indicated earlier, many developed countries have used identity verification and management tools to significantly aid crime prevention. This can range from digitisation of driving licences to proof of age on smartphones to digital IDs to age verification online.

Through digitalisation, individuals are empowered to exercise their rights and responsibilities fairly and equitably, as digital inclusion provides access to government services, says Dr. Bawumia. Institutions like the DVLA, Police, Banks, NHIA, Passport office, GRA, SSNIT, Telecom companies will be able to verify the identity of anyone they are doing business with. Besides, digitalisation will promote inclusion as government targets its social interventions to the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

However, these measures will only work if the public takes responsibility for adopting them. That is why I am so disappointed with some politicians trying to pour cold water on a policy which is shaping and changing major economies across the world. In this fast-developing telecommunications and Internet era, I wonder why some people think digitalisation will not put bread on the table or put money in our pockets? On the contrary, social media and digitalisation are empowering many youths in skills and entrepreneurial development. Many people, including elderly people, are taking advantage of digitalisation to do online delivery services ranging from food, cosmetics and clothing to herbal medicines.


Rex, H, 2026.  How digital tech will change how we fight crime.


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