The proposed Huduma Namba is a big disappointment for gays and sex workers who have been viciously fighting against biometric registration.
For about three years local and foreign activists successfully fought off plans by the Ministry of Health to use biometrics in registering gays and sex workers in Kenya.
But now an amendment to the Registration of Persons Act legalizes the use of biometrics in the registration of all Kenyans.
It also allows the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) in the registration process thus enabling the tracking of an individual’s location via satellite.
The Ministry of Health and activists have been locked in a vicious dispute over a proposal to register sex workers and gays using biometrics.
The ministry had planned and even acquired expensive equipment in 2016 for a national census of gays, sex workers and related groups known as key populations.
But following opposition from the Kenya Key Populations Consortium, the US last year prevailed upon the ministry to drop the use of biometrics and threatened to withhold funding.
Kenya Key Populations Consortium represents over 90 groups of gays, prostitutes, drug injectors and activists in Kenya.
The consortium argued that such data could be misused to track down their members by law enforcers since their activities are illegal in Kenya. It had also been argued that the requirement was illegal and discriminatory.
The ministry on the other hand wanted a foolproof method of identifying individuals especially those participating in HIV programmes for proper planning and accountability.
The ministry had cited data falsification and multiple entries for collection of free HIV products, services and payments.
“Everyone just said no, and we kept saying no,” the consortium had celebrated after their win.
But now the new legal amendment signed recently into law by President Uhuru Kenyatta makes biometrics mandatory in the issuance of new identity cards and other identification processes.
The amended law allows the use of finger prints and other unique biological identifiers such as hand and earlobe geometry, retina and iris patterns, voice waves and DNA.
The law also gives the responsible Cabinet Secretary the powers to gazette other specific registration requirements where necessary.
On Tuesday President Kenyatta ordered all Kenyans be registered digitally and given Huduma identification numbers.
The National Integrated Identity Management System, the President said will generate a unique identification number to be known as the Huduma Namba or Service Number.
“Why does the government want to know where you live, what you do, and with whom?” asks Dennis Nzioka a gay rights activist in Nairobi.
“The use of biomarkers—finger printing, iris scanning, toe scanning—will introduce fear and uncertainty among communities that are already criminalised,” Nzioka had blogged earlier
In addition to other self-incriminating details such as phone number, home address, HIV status, place of work he says these will only serve to drive people away from healthcare services.
But he also raises questions on data safety and storage. “Methods of data storage can pose challenges if its safety, handling and security are compromised.”
The consortium had also raised questions on data access by unauthorized persons and possibility of data leakage from government agencies.
“I think this is a very bad idea. It will definitely scare sex workers from seeking healthcare,” said Juliet a peer educator for the Sex Workers Outreach Program (SWOP) in Nairobi.
SWOP provides HIV treatment and prevention services to over 50,000 female sex workers and about 3,000 male prostitutes and gays in Nairobi County.
While Nzioka and Juliet have separately down played accusations of data falsification they say if any there are better ways of dealing with the problem but non biometric registration.
But most recent donor audits in Kenya’s HIV programmes shows massive data falsification and multiple payments for the same individuals and projects.
The audits exposed multiple claims where data indicated individuals receiving the same service several times accompanied with multiple reporting and billing.
A recent audit by Global Fund in Kenya exposed high rates of data falsification and multiple billings in its funded HIV projects.
Global Fund is the second highest donor to key populations’ projects in Kenya after the US President’s Emergency Programme for AIDS Response (PEPFAR).
Last month an evaluation report financed by the US Government showed the much praised Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) in Kenya to be mainly based on falsified data.
The report covering Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay and Migori counties showed highly inflated figures sometimes up to 180 per cent.
The report, involving the Ministry of Health suspected intentional inflation of data reporting by some implementing partners and health facilities.
Due to poor identification of service recipients an individual would be indicated to have been circumcised at different centers and consequently multiple reporting and billing.
Kenya, the report said is the first country where such data issues have been encountered and advised stricter data safeguards to be put in place.
“Valid client contact information - including residence - should be included in programme records, as lack of these details makes spot quality checks difficult,” said the report.
In its recent evaluation report, Global Fund regretted the controversy holding back a biometrics based national census of key populations.
The fund says the current identifiers for key populations, which include the national ID are outdated and making it difficult to deliver HIV interventions.
“In the absence of nationally representative bio-behavioural surveillance data, it is difficult to track HIV prevalence and incidence and related factors among key populations,” says Global Fund.