Time for a new digital dawn?

Amnesty International Kenya opening remarks at the civil society breakfast engagement on the digitization of citizens services convened by the State Department for Immigration and Citizens Services, Ministry of Interior and Inter-Government Coordination

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

President William Ruto’s World Privacy Day remarks that with the passing of the Data Protection Act (2019) Kenya had leapfrogged four decades of European Union legislation must guide current spirited efforts to digitize 5,000 services and introduce a unique personal digital number at birth for all.

Previous attempts to digitize services and a single digital source of identity verification were undermined by poor public participation, a rushed and haphazard NIIMS registration approach, the real dangers of excluding historically marginalized communities (Somali, Nubian communities among others) and public interest litigation designed to ensure compliance with international data governance principles and the Data Protection Act. The Kenya Kwanza administration can leapfrog these challenges by taking a whole of society approach to their current ambition, consult widely, share openly and involve expertise from researchers, data protection and open data advocates, technology experts and the public.

Four steps would ensure that the current digitisation programme moves lawfully, swiftly and nurtures public credibility and support. They include ensuring that all initiatives are subjected to data protection impact assessments and embed data sharing protocols and mechanisms, developed in Estonia and elsewhere, that require agencies to seek sharing permission via USSD from citizens.

Secondly, public awareness and demand for the programme is crucial. The ICT and Interior Ministries can work with civil society agencies to raise the national levels of digital literacy. The proposed Immigration 10 March public hearing on the digital birth certification programme is an important first step and must be supported.

Thirdly, the Government must integrate the Open Government Partnership programme and share data protection impact assessments and progress reports as well as introduce toll free helplines and regular public feedback loops that build public trust and support.

Fourthly, let us seize the opportunity of this breakfast meeting convened by the State Department for Immigration and Citizen Services to establish a working group between the Interior Ministry, ICT Ministry, Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and other stakeholders to support stakeholder engagement. A review moment in September 2023 will ensure we can jointly learn and improve on this national programme.

Amnesty International Kenya remains seized by the importance of responsible data governance in line with the Data Protection Act (2019). We thank the leadership of Principal Secretary Amb. Julius Bitok and Immigration Directors present for expressing a willingness to openly work with civic agencies. Much is possible with this spirit of collaboration.


Irungu Houghton, Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director

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