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State to continue with Huduma Namba plans

Saturday February 1 2020

cybersecurity

Residents are registered for Huduma Namba at Mombasa Huduma Centre on May 15, 2019. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

MAUREEN KAKAH
By MAUREEN KAKAH
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The government intends to roll out measures to forge ahead with its plans on implementing the new identification digital platform famously known as Huduma Namba.

Despite concerns on data security, infringement on the right to privacy and discrimination being cited as the key issues surrounding the National Integrated Identity System (Niims), the government says it now has the leeway to proceed with its plans following the court’s decision.

In a statement, Interior PS Karanja Kibicho said the government will now implement legislation, policies and a regulatory framework for Kenyans to finally acquire a Huduma Namba and a Huduma Card.

“The government now has the legal mandate and backing to continue providing dignified services to Kenyans in a timely, improved and effective manner,” said Dr Kibicho.

On Thursday, High Court judges Pauline Nyamweya, Mumbi Ngugi and Weldon Korir ruled that the process must be done within proper legislation.

However, according to lawyer Waikwa Wanyoike, the court’s decision was not satisfactory on the concerns touching on data security, infringement on the right to privacy and discrimination.

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However, he says, the fact that the court compelled the government to legislate laws that would ensure data security and exclusion does not occur, is a good place to start if concerns relating to the breach of security which could find private and sensitive data in the wrong hands, are anything to go by.

“We appreciate the orders issued especially on the caution on data but the court should have done more to ensure there is judicial supervision on the government,” Mr Wanyoike said.

He adds: “we feel there are issues which the court failed to appreciate like how important it is to develop solid legislation on such a technical issue. Utility will not outweigh negative implications.”

When the programme first came into the limelight last year and even before it was officially launched, there were various concerns on whether Huduma Namba was directly linked to ‘satanic code’ 666.

Some, Christians included, opted not to be registered because of fear of linking themselves to satanism while others just chose to keep away from that which was perceived to be a mere government ploy that involved use of taxpayers’ money ‘unnecessarily’.

But President Kenyatta came out to clear the air while explaining that there was no connection between biblical references indicated in Revelations 13:18 and Huduma Namba.

Mr Shafi Ali Hussein, the chairman of the Nubian Rights Forum says his problem with Niims is as a Kenyan, Nubians and other minority communities will be left out.

“The issue of discrimination should be addressed so that I do not have to feel locked out by the government,” he said.

Nubians told court that they have often been subjected to more serious vetting as compared to other Kenyans when applying for national identification cards and that they also eventually end up not getting the IDs at the end.

All they wanted from the court therefore was to be shielded from this kind of discrimination even as the government plans to roll out Huduma Namba system.

“Let us have the government solve concerns about identification documents, we want to move with the rest and the issue of being subjected to vetting before acquiring them affects us alone, not other communities,” said Ms Fatuma Abdirahman.

Those who support Niims say it is a positive step towards fighting crime, managing personal data and weeding out ghost workers besides government’s plan to make it easy for Kenyans to access acquisition of necessary documents as well as services.

Whilst digitization of records can improve efficiencies in registration and increase data quality, the petitioners in the case claimed that the country does not have legislation or policy on data protection.

They told court that there would be a breach to the right to privacy as information relating to family or private affairs may be required to be revealed.

They claimed that the legislation of Huduma Number systems does not provide for a transition mechanism from the current regime hence taxpayers could easily find themselves exposed to unfair inconveniences and would result to coercion and blackmail for personal information in exchange for constitutional guaranteed rights.

With this being a digital era, concerns relating to hacking were raised by various expert witnesses who testified in the case.

With the introduction of Huduma number system, Kenya is simply walking in the steps of India, which came up with such a process and was equally challenged in court over similar concerns relating to violation of the right to privacy.

India’s digital identification system is known as Aadhaar and was launched ten years ago. Every Indian Citizen is required to have an Aadhaar card in order to access services from the government.

Both Courts in India and Kenya allowed governments in the two countries to implement the digital identification process even though doubts still linger on the safety of data.

Despite courts in both countries calling for stringent data protection laws, India’s system which has been longer in operational than Kenya’s, has been marred with technical challenges.

Perhaps, only time will tell on whether Huduma number system will be sufficient or not.