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Does Kenya’s Huduma Namba exemplify the elements of Good Identification?

– iHub

  • Viewpoint
  • Posted by Good ID team (Good ID)
  • 28 June 2019

The Kenyan government’s efforts to introduce a digital identification scheme have been met with resistance; iHub explores reasons underlying public mistrust of the scheme

Author Tess Wandia explores the Kenyan government’s efforts to introduce biometric registration of almost 50 million citizens. Assessing the process against the principles of Good ID as stipulated by the Omidyar Network, Wandia argues that more could be done to gain Kenyan’s support for digital ID.

Kenya’s new digital ID system – led by the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) – involves recording citizens biodata and issuing them with a unique number. Known as the “huduma namba,” this string of numbers enables citizens to access government services.

Wandia acknowledges the potential benefits of digital identification systems, quoting the Omidyar Network’s goal of “helping people to participate more fully and fearlessly in society and the digital economy,” and she highlights ways in which the roll out could have been more effective:

“On the matter of digital ID’s in Kenya, public participation was not employed to get perspectives from citizens and other stakeholders in order to uphold a collaborative spirit.” She adds: “Communication of the roll out strategy, objectives and potential impact based on evidence based research has not been done for the benefit of Kenyans.”

Wandia explains that the initiative, which was launched in February 2019, has encountered problems with procurement, timelines, and poor official communication. Registering for the new digital ID system was initially mandatory for all eligible citizens; failure to register could lead to citizen’s losing access to government services, including their passports. While an April court ruling suspended mandatory registration, there are continued reports of forced involvement in the process, including the use of duress and brute force in some regions.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Wandia notes that

“Kenya still does not have a ratified Data Protection policy, so it would be folly for the government to conduct this biometric registration process, when no law exists to protect the sensitive data being collected from Kenyans; or even protect Kenyans from their data being misused to defend infractions against them such as surveillance, exclusion to services or even spaces.”

The piece concludes that the contextual system as a whole, including NIIMS but also beyond it, needs to be reviewed in order to live up to the principles of Good ID and deliver on the benefits it promises.

…it’s not too late to fix what has been broken, but we need to do an overhaul of the process, one that employs a multi-stakeholder dynamic, is transparent, ethical, secure and eventually valuable to Kenya’s economy.

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