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Kenya parliament schedules, cancels debate on Huduma Namba digital ID

Kenya parliament schedules, cancels debate on Huduma Namba digital ID

Lawmakers in Kenya’s National Assembly will not hold a special debate session on whether to endorse proposed major amendments to the revised Huduma Namba Bill on 13 July.

The revised Huduma Namba Bill has been in the National Assembly since December last year, and the special sitting was planned for the Third Reading of the draft text, according to a notice to lawmakers from the Speaker of the House, the Hon Justin B.N. Muturi.

It remains unclear what exactly would have come out of the special sitting, but digital rights organization Namati Kenya, which has widely tweeted the notification of the session, had already expressed fears that should the bill be adopted without the key recommendations made by civil society organizations and the general public, the digital ID system will exclude millions of Kenyans and put their identity and privacy rights at high risk.

Muturi has now canceled the special sitting, blaming the failure of the Government Printer to gazette the proceedings in a notification tweeted by civil society group Mzalendo. The speaker claims that the documentation is in order, and says no explanation was offered from the printer.

The Huduma Namba was introduced in 2019, and has since been mired in controversy as rights advocates and the government have been on a war path over the form and content of the digital ID scheme.

Biometric Update earlier this year reported on some of the proposed changes in the bill, which among other things, make the Huduma Namba the only official proof of ID, requires the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to use the Huduma Namba as the basis for drawing up the national voter register, and institutes fines for citizens who fail to sign up for the digital ID process.

Another proposed amendment will allow the Kenya Revenue Authority access to the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) database as part of its efforts to enlarge its tax base and increase revenue collection. NIIMS is the database on which the Huduma Namba ID project will henceforth be built, according to the bill.

Last October, Kenya’s High Court directed a halt in issuance of the cards until the government begins to rollout the cards in consonance with provisions of the Personal Data Protection Act, which it was accused of violating.

Other rights groups such as the Nubian Rights Forum have criticized the Huduma Namba project in the past, saying it is exclusionary in many ways.

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