Maisha Namba 'sins' similar to Huduma

When former President Uhuru Kenyatta and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta received their respective Huduma Namba cards during the 11th Mashujaa Day celebrations at Gusii Stadium, Kisii County. [PCS]

Data collected for Maisha Namba will be shared with third parties, a court has been told.

In a new onslaught against the Kenya Kwanza government’s new generation identification cards dubbed Maisha Namba, the court has heard that mobile technology firms, credit reference bureaus, banks  and marketing firms will easily get the digital identity.

Haki na Sheria Initiative, a human rights lobby, filed the case. Its lawyer Yussuf Bashir argues that privacy cannot be guaranteed as the Maisha ecosystem will be accessible to private firms, not necessarily offering government services.

The court heard that Kenya Kwanza has added more data to be collected, including iris and facial features. Haki na Sheria expresses fears that data could be a commodity for sale since private firms cannot access the system. According to the lobby, the government is committing the same sins the Jubilee government had done on Huduma Namba.

It points out in Huduma, the Jubilee government trusted a centralised server to store data, the same case for Maisha Namba. At the same time, the group says the current regime rolled out the data collection exercise before it put up the infrastructure and law to safeguard the collected data. This was a similar problem identified in the Huduma exercise.

The lobby says the government collected at least data from 10,000 first time applicants daily. At the same time, at least 5,000 persons who had lost or had defaced IDs applied for Maisha Namba daily.

“It is the petitioner’s contention that concerns surrounding centralised data systems and interoperability thereof, unauthorised access to personal data by third parties, transferability of data, commercialisation of data thereof as private entities now seeks to gain access to the database for a fee undoubtedly arise,” argues Bashir.

Further, he says, the government had left out persons vetted before getting an ID. This was a similar problem with Huduma Namba as Nubian community argued that majority who had IDs were left out due to the slow vetting.

The current regulations, the petitioner says, used by Kenya Kwanza are no different from what Huduma Namba was based on as they do not address major issues raised on digital IDs.

“In a nutshell, the petitioner contends that neither the amended regulations nor the press release addresses a transition path for persons currently facing challenges in acquiring national IDs and Birth Certificates, how certificates of birth issued before the effective date of the Birth Rules Amendments will be integrated et al,” says the lawyer.

The case filed on Thursday is the second onslaught against Maisha Namba. The first case was filed by the Katiba Institute. In the case, Katiba’s lawyer Dudley Ochiel argued despite millions of Kenyans were forced to register for Huduma Namba in 2019 today they hold a card that is not recognised or cannot be used to transact any legal function.

He stated that the government rolled out the new exercise even before a law was enacted. “They do not have a legal basis for rolling out Maisha Namba,” said Ochiel.

At the same time, Ochiel said, the government as not conducted a data protection impact assessment as required by section 31 of the Data Protection Act. The judge also heard that the government did not conduct public participation. He asserted that President William Ruto-led government wants to illegally use the data collected by former President Uhuru Kenyatta-led Jubilee administration for its Sh11 billion Huduma Namba.

“For a second time, the respondents have ignored this court’s rulings and have violated section 31 of the Data protection Act. They remain intent on building the Maisha Namba  on the shaky foundation of data illegally collected and processed through Huduma Namba,” argued Ochiel.

The High Court had declared collection of data during Huduma Namba exercise. There were two cases revolving around the project launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta. The first case was filed by Nubian community. At the heart of that case was whether the data collected from millions of Kenyans was secure and free from manipulation by government operatives.

At the same time, there were questions whether there was public participation. The information gathered included mobile phone number, personal email, profession, whether one is involved in agriculture, and what acreage of land one has, was to be stored in one server. In the Huduma case, the High Court judges Justices Mumbi Ngugi, Pauline Nyamweya and Weldon Korir allowed the government to proceed with the exercise but barred it from collecting DNA.

In a new twist to the project, another judge Jairus Ngaah invalidated the project as National Assembly failed to consult Senate before enacting Data Protection Act.