Religious leaders back digital ID amid privacy concerns

A section of religious leaders during a press conference in Nairobi. [Immigration Department]

The government has announced the start of the piloting phase for the new digital ID system, which has received mixed reactions from religious leaders and civil society groups.

The new card, dubbed Maisha Digital Card, will replace the current national ID and will be linked to a Unique Personal Identifier (UPI) that will be issued at birth and remain valid for life.

According to a Special Gazette notice dated Oct 25, 2023, Interior CS Kithure Kindiki amended the Registration of Persons Regulations to provide for an electronic card and an electronic register. The Regulations also allow the use of facial features to complement fingerprints for personal identification.

The government says the digital ID will enhance national security, service delivery and data protection. However, some critics have raised concerns about the potential misuse of personal data and the lack of public consultation on the project.

Prof. Julius Bitok, the PS for Immigration and Citizen Services, said the piloting phase will help assess the country's readiness for the adoption of digital ID. He said the government has conducted 698 stakeholder engagement forums across the country, involving the civil society, the private sector, media, development partners and National Government Administration Officers (NGAOs).

He also said the government has done a data protection impact assessment and submitted a report to the Data Commissioner to ensure compliance with the law.

"We want to make sure that this time, we get it right in view of the frustrations that have plagued previous attempts to introduce a digital ID," he said.

He added that the new Maisha Digital Card will be tamper-proof and accessible through mobile phones.

"We are going to enhance our national security because the new Maisha Namba card is tamper-proof. With your phone you can also apply for your Maisha Digital ID and access online services easily. We want to ensure the entire government leverages on technology for service delivery," he said.

The PS was speaking at a forum with religious leaders, who expressed their support for the digital ID but also urged the government to address their concerns.

Bishop Philip Kitoto, the Chairman of Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK), said digital ID was a reality that Kenya needed to embrace but also called for assurance that personal data will be secure.

"As a country, we have to align with global trends and address concerns related to the security of registration documents. But equally important is the assurance that personal data is secure and that it will not fall into the wrong hands," he said.

Pastor Samuel Makori of the Seventh Day Adventist Church echoed his sentiments and also asked the government to avoid duplication and wastage of resources.

"The government is doing the right thing and we will fully support it. But we want an assurance that we will not be undertaking a similar exercise whenever a new administration comes in place," he said.

Other religious leaders who attended the meeting included representatives from Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM), Hindu Council of Kenya (HCK) and Sikh Union.

The digital ID project has faced several legal challenges in the past, including a case filed by Huduma Namba opponents who argued that it violated constitutional rights to privacy and dignity. The case is still pending in court.