from MARIA MACHARIA in Nairobi, Kenya
NAIROBI, (CAJ News) – CIVIL society and community-based organisations in Kenya have expressed concern at the government’s new plan to roll out a unique personal identifier, effective next Friday.
The digital identity document scheme is dubbed, “Maisha Namba.”
In a letter to the State Department for Immigration and Citizen Services Permanent Secretary, Julius Bitok, the groups have urged the government to take immediate action to ensure the enactment of proper legislation, meaningful public participation, access to critical documentation (birth certificates and ID cards) for all Kenyans, and adequate data protection measures and adherence to the law in the process aimed at creating a digital identity system.
They further reminded the government of discrimination and erosion of privacy and exclusion for communities that have historically struggled with access to documentation that were witnessed with an allegedly hurried and flawed implementation of Huduma Namba.
The Kenyan Human Rights Commission is leading a group of ten civil society groups opposed to Maisha Namba.
“We reinforce that the opaque rollout, lack of public engagements and a lack of proper procedural and legal safeguards associated with the Unique Personal Identifier/Maisha Number rollout would wreak havoc on the ways citizens access nationality documents.”
The push towards creating a digital identity eco-system will assign individuals a lifelong unique identification number starting from birth and eventually serve as an ID number with the processing of the third generation identity cards.
The digitisation process will result in a consolidated National Master Population Register that will merge existing and independent databases into a single register of data on Kenyans and foreigners in the country.
However, aggrieved organizations argue that steps needed for identification system upgrade and reforms have been glaringly lacking in this new introduction of Maisha Namba.
Wider broad-based engagements with the public, civil society and other stakeholders have been non-existent, and to that end, the current efforts of the government to develop digital ID are cascading dangerously towards the pitfalls that stalled Huduma Namba, they said.
“We are at a critical moment. A move to digital IDs is not a minor change but one that significantly changes how legal identification is administered in our country. As such, we need to get it right and improve access to nationality, data protection and individual’s privacy rather than erode it.”
“We experienced firsthand in our communities the harms of digital identity systems, where it locked out people who struggle with documentation, denied citizens services, excessively collected personal data and impeded fundamental freedoms.”
In August, the government of Kenya and the United Nations Development Programme signed a Memorandum of Understanding to effectively set the stage for the rollout of digital identity in Kenya.
“The digital identity project is crucial, and that the partnership would also factor in the role of stakeholders and interest groups to ensure that the envisaged digital ID gained from a broad inclusion of ideas and acceptance,” Bitok said then.
– CAJ News