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Kenya’s digital ID ecosystem must respect fundamental human rights: policy advisory

Kenya’s digital ID ecosystem must respect fundamental human rights: policy advisory

The Kenya office of global rights advocacy organization, Amnesty International, has issued an advisory policy paper outlining what the country must do in order to balance its digital ID and digital government efforts with respect for fundamental human rights.

The policy advisory, detailed in a 44-page publication released in January, was drafted in collaboration with Nairobi-based Strathmore University and the Centre for Intellectual Property Information and Technology Law, a research and training center under the university.

Kenya’s previous digital ID project, the Huduma Namba, faced major criticisms and even litigations for failing to factor in the human rights dimension in its design and rollout.

At the moment, the country is also facing similar concerns with the new Maisha Namba digital ID program which was stopped by the Nairobi High Court last December for lack of a data protection impact assessment.

With a past and present digital ID experience mired in human rights controversy, Amnesty says its policy paper is intended to help the country in the rollout of a digital ID ecosystem that “must prioritize privacy, data security and inclusivity to ensure that individuals’ rights are protected.”

Per the paper, Kenyan authorities should ensure a rights-respecting digital ID project by “conducting a data protection impact assessment to evaluate the privacy and security risks mitigation measures, and serve as an integral tool in demonstrating compliance and avert the exclusion of migrant communities, marginalized groups and communities who are at risk of exclusion on the lines of sex, gender and level of education.”

According to Amnesty, putting in place a rights-respecting digital ID system in Kenya must align with national as well as internationally accepted principles on digital ID.

Specifically, the watchdog says the rollout of the project requires strong public awareness and participation whereby members of the Kenyan public are properly informed about the project and are allowed a meaningful opportunity to relay their views and opinions for consideration; data protection compliance which entails evaluating the privacy and security risks of the system while proposing mitigating measures; as well as respect for the country’s constitutionality and bill of rights which is generally about the right to be free from all forms of discrimination and unjust exclusion, and the right to fair administrative action.

While the paper captures academic views on “the next steps, the need, justification, principles, benefits and challenges of the UPI and digital ID in Kenya,” it equally makes a comparative analysis of a number of digital ID ecosystems, including the Aadhaar in India, which is considered the largest and most successfully implemented digital ID scheme in the world. Kenya is also seeking collaboration with India on its Maisha Namba project.

The document also looks at other exemplary digital ID projects in countries including Estonia, Germany, Mauritius, Pakistan and Portugal.

It equally makes an overall appraisal of Kenya’s past digital ID and civil registration efforts; the new digital ID and UPI project, its scope, usefulness and benefits, current challenges and perspectives; existing and required legal frameworks; the technology and governance sides of the project, as well as data governance aspects, just to mention these.

The paper concludes that while it has become imperative for many countries such as Kenya to digitize essential government services with digital ID as one of the key access tools, it is also vital for these countries to implement such systems “in adherence to the data governance and general principles on digital identity.”

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