Kenyans will trade the privacy of their communication for security in the next couple of months with the roll-out of digital personal identification cards and a telecoms surveillance network that will remotely intercept voice and text messages from individuals.
Interior secretary Joseph ole Lenku Thursday said Kenya is negotiating with American firm Richmar and Associates for the supply of Biometric Identification Cards and portable data centre technology that will hold an individual’s biometrics including voice – helping to monitor all types of information exchange among citizens.
“The technology has the ability to strategically and tactically track all forms of communication (cellphones, SMS, satellite and Web, helping security agencies to pursue criminals,” Mr Lenku said during a briefing on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s recent trip to the US.
The minister’s statement did not address how the technology would be used without breaching constitutional provisions that safeguard citizens’ right to privacy.
Intercepting ordinary citizens’ communication without court orders would be in direct violation of Article 31 of the Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to privacy, including “the right not to have the privacy of their communications infringed.”
Mr Kenyatta’s government has identified technology as one of the instruments it plans to use to arrest runaway insecurity, but legal experts said the initiative would only succeed if executed according to the law.
Interception of users’ communication outside the legal limits raises the danger of exposing telecommunication companies to multi-million shilling suits – mainly for failing to secure the privacy of their clients.
Thursday, the government laid the ground for the launch of the digital security platform with an announcement that anyone who will not have acquired the new biometric identity cards within the first year of its rollout will not be allowed to do business with banks, make utility payments or travel out of the country.
Issuance of the biometric IDs is expected to begin in the last quarter of the year.
Mwende Gatabaki, the acting director-general of Kenya Citizens and Foreign Nationals Management Service (KCFNMs), said plans for issuance of the new IDs were complete and actual registration would begin in November.
She said the current ID cards would be rendered invalid in December 2015 while holders of passports expiring from July 2015 or those seeking new ones would also be issued with e-Passports.
“Kenyans or foreigners who will not have acquired the digital IDs by the set date will not be able to transact any business in this country,” she said during a public awareness forum at the University of Nairobi.
Ms Gatabaki said the initiative is facing strong opposition from “vested interests”, politics and corruption networks, adding that corrupt government officials with interests in the current chaotic system had threatened her twice.
Mr Lenku said that the US firm would provide Kenya with the technology to issue biometric IDs dubbed “Moja card” , which will together with the surveillance system “help security agencies in pursuing criminals and dealing with issues of cyber-crime and terrorism.”
The government in April announced plans to roll out a Sh7 billion campaign to digitally register Kenyans and the national assets.
The initiative includes issuance of new IDs, ePassports and driving licences. All Kenyan citizens will be required to register afresh and acquire digital IDs during phase one of the project. The government plans to use data gathered during the registration to establish a national digital registry.
The aim is to issue Kenyans of all ages with a unique digital ID that would be referenced from birth to death.
The initiative is expected to limit the number of documents each Kenyan holds to a maximum of three, an ID, e-Driving Licence and e-Passport.
Unlike the current identification documents, whose authentication is number or finger prints-based, the new ones will include facial image such as iris scan and fingerprints.
Biometric data capture will begin at the age of 12 and by the time the person celebrates his or her 18 birthday they will not have to apply afresh for an ID, but will instead be called to collect it.
Digital identification cards will host a large volume of personal information including birth, marriage, National Hospital Insurance Fund, National Social Services Fund as well as prepare the ground for electronic voting.
“It’s a mammoth task and perhaps the most fundamental transformation of management of information assets since independence. It is not going to be a smooth sailing and expect challenges. As we speak, we haven’t started the project yet I have received two threats from those who are not interested in the project,” she added.
“It’s the President’s commitment to beat the odds and strengthen National Security and have a Government that listens to its people,” she noted.
– Business Daily