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Tools for Humanity faces tough questions in Kenya Worldcoin inquiry

Tools for Humanity faces tough questions in Kenya Worldcoin inquiry
 

The standoff between Kenyan officials and crypto-ID firm Worldcoin continues, with both sides raising the stakes to defend their positions.

Alex Blania, the CEO of Worldcoin’s parent company, Tools for Humanity, has been in front of a parliamentary inquiry to face questions about the legality of Worldcoin’s operations in Kenya. According to a post on Cryptopolitan, last week he told lawmakers that Tools for Humanity has invested US$4.8 million in Kenya, to promote blockchain and cryptocurrency education and general awareness of information technology. In August, Worldcoin offered 25 WLD crypto tokens worth 7,000 shillings (about $50) to Kenyans citizens willing to enroll in the World ID program by having their irises scanned by the company’s biometric capture tool, the Orb. More than 350,000 Kenyans signed up for the deal.

Blania continues to insist that Worldcoin broke no laws in its effort to provide proof-of-personhood and global ID to Kenyans through the mass collection of biometric data. He claims that it will not sell users’ biometric scans, which are stored on servers in the U.S., Germany, Italy, Poland and South Africa, and said the investment in Kenyan information and communications technology was a demonstration of Worldcoin’s desire to develop a long-term relationship with the west African nation. As reported in Bitcoinist, Blania told the committee, “Our commitment to the people of Kenya is genuine, and we have at all times endeavored to operate honestly, compliantly, and above all, transparently.”

Government confiscates biometric scanners

Kenya’s government officials, however, are not so sure. Members of the National Assembly Ad-Hoc Committee have rolled out a list of serious allegations against Worldcoin, from data fraud to the potential to enable tax evasion and even terrorism. The government suspended the firm’s activities in August and, according to a report in the Star, recently seized 48 of its iris-scanning Orbs, which will undergo a forensic examination to determine their full capabilities. As reported on Citizen Digital, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki went so far as to hint at a ban on cryptocurrency altogether, citing concerns that the “grey areas” and opaque workings of the crypto trade could hide money laundering and other illegal activities.

The rhetoric has become more pointed as the investigation goes on.

“We have noted obvious breaches of our data protection laws,” observed the National Computer and Cybercrimes Coordination Committee (NCCCC) during the inquiry. The Standard reports that the NCCCC said Worldcoin “disguised” itself as a research project, when in fact the end goal was to promote its crypto wallet. One MP claimed the firm was pursuing a technocratic “new world order.” Interior Cabinet Secretary Kindiki said the owners of Worldcoin and Tools for Humanity had been prevented from leaving the country pending further investigation, but that U.S. officials intervened to allow them to leave. He was unequivocal in his promise that anyone involved in illegal activities connected to the Worldcoin project would face justice.

“No one is immune, nobody is excluded,” Kindiki told the committee. “If you are found on the wrong side of the law, action will be taken.”

Even health officials have weighed in, with Kenya’s health secretary, Susan Nakhumicha Wafula, warning that Kenyans who had their irises scanned by the Orb could have exposed themselves to potential health risks.

Integrated regulatory approach could have prevented mess

Not all of the blame, however, was directed squarely at Blania and his partners. According to The Standard, the government also took heat for the administrative dysfunction that allowed Worldcoin to dodge necessary regulations. Ezra Chiloba, the director general of Kenya’s Communication Authority, said better coordination between regulatory agencies might have prevented Worldcoin from collecting Kenyans’ biometric data without a license.

The National Assembly Ad Hoc Committee has until September 28 to table its findings.

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