Kenyans are right to censure government over census data

Deserted market centres characterised the start of the 2019 population census last Saturday. An executive order issued earlier had cautioned bar owners and other social places to close doors by 6pm to coincide with the start of the census exercise. Kenyans complied, most understanding the importance of the exercise.

Indeed, population census is critical to national planning and resource allocation. For us, it is even more critical under the new political dispensation of a two-tier system of governance; national and county governments. Accurate figures will help government allocate funds equitably.

But while a population census comes with specific questions, some Kenyans have censured the Government over the requirement that they reveal their Identification card and passport numbers.

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It is easy to understand their concerns, especially when they are convinced their safety and security could be compromised.

Amnesty International has joined the debate, arguing that revealing ID and passport numbers is not within the realm of the Statistics Act. Besides, Kenya does not yet have a data protection law, hence the grave concerns over the safety of such data.

Government Spokesperson Cyrus Oguna has come out to defend the census requirement on IDs and passports, assuring the public that the information collected would be safeguarded.

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However, in light of what has transpired elsewhere regarding data breaches, the assurance sounds hollow.

In July, 2019, Facebook was fined $5 billion for negligence that resulted in the political analysis firm Cambridge Analytica accessing private information of about 87 million users in 2012.

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This information was later used by Cambridge Analytica for political advertising without the consent of the affected.

ID card numbers are linked to mobile phone (numbers) on which people store sensitive information like passwords to their bank accounts. Such information in the wrong hands — those of hackers to be precise — can be dangerous.

Cybercrime is on the increase, and the theft of money from four ATM machines within Nairobi in April is a testament to that. The right thing would have been to pass the Data Protection Bill 2018 before carrying out the census.

But that can’t be done now. The train has already left the station. Kenyans have no option but to back the exercise and hope the Government will do its part—keep their data safe, away from those who can use it for the wrong reasons.

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censusCambridge AnalyticaGovernment Spokesperson Cyrus Oguna