Digital rights groups have faulted the government over data protection uncertainty in digital ID roll-out.
Kenya’s High Court has paused the roll-out of Maisha Namba, a proposed digital ID system set to replace the failed Huduma Namba. The court, through Judge John Chigiti cites the lack of a data protection impact assessment as the reason for the suspension.
The court ruling reads: “The leave granted by the court operates as a stay restraining implementation or further implementation by any person of the respondents’ 1 November 2023 decision to roll out or pilot Maisha Namba,” including the digital card, digital ID, unique personal identifier, and a National Master Population Register before and without a data protection impact assessment, per section 31 of the Data Protection Act.”
Maisha Namba was proposed by the state through the ICT minister Eliud Owalo, who argued that the previous digital ID programme, Huduma Namba, was flawed and failed to communicate its intent to Kenyans. The Huduma Namba project cost the state KES 10 billion and received criticisms from multiple digital rights groups before it was eventually dropped.
To address its shortcomings, the new administration led by President William Ruto sought to patch these issues via Maisha Namba, which would have started pilot tests in December 2023. However, the project still failed to meet the demands of the public, such as extended participation. Digital rights groups, including Access Now and the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, questioned whether the government had performed a robust data protection impact assessment before launching the service. “It cannot, however, be ignored that a transition of this magnitude comes with pitfalls that must be addressed,” said the rights groups in a joint statement, “especially if the design and implementation process is not conducted in a transparent, inclusive, and human-rights-centered manner.”
Per the digital rights groups, there were concerns about transparency and a shaky legal basis, a limited nationwide public participation, and data protection uncertainty. The groups also cited that there was no evaluation of risks related to the exclusion of many Kenyans and the speed of the planned roll-out.