Parliament seeks views on Worldcoin operations

Cabinet Secretaries Kithure Kindiki (interior) and Eliud Owalo (ICT) after they appeared before Parliament plenary over Woldcoin on August 9, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

A joint ad-hoc committee of the National Assembly has invited the public to submit their views on the operations of the controversial crypto-currency firm Worldcoin.

The committee is probing the operations and activities of Worldcoin amid concerns that the data collected by the firm may have been used for purposes other than the declared intent and may pose a risk to the protection and privacy of the participants if not monitored.

This is after the firm recently launched its Iris-for-tokens in Kenya, offering free cryptocurrency tokens to participants upon registration and scanning of the irises in various locations including the Kenya International Conference Centre (KICC) in Nairobi.

Further exacerbating the situation are the recent cases of cyber-attacks in the country,  which underscore the risks posed by unregulated mining and management of data.

The ad-hoc committee is investigating the operations and ultimate objectives of Worldcoin, the legal and regulatory compliance of the firm and its agents in the country, whether due diligence was undertaken by the government before it started operations, the nature of use and safety of data collected from the public.

The committee will also look into the source of money paid to participants, whether citizens were exposed to any health hazards, the legal and regulatory gaps that permitted operations of Worldcoin and recommend the necessary legislative interventions.

“In compliance with the Constitution, the committee hereby invites the public to submit memoranda on the specific terms of reference of the inquiry as outlined and any other relevant issue they wish to draw the attention of the committee too," reads the notice in part. 

In the recent past, Members of Parliament have accused various state agencies of laxity in the wake of the Worldcoin data saga.

The legislators, while lauding the State’s move to ban Worldcoin operations noted that the agencies should have done due diligence to avert unchecked data mining.

The legislators drawn from across the political divide called for a comprehensive audit into the operations of Worldcoin and demanded that those responsible for the registration of the company and allowing their equipment into the country be brought to book.

“This is a matter of national security… where was our National Intelligence Service given that this company has been operating for the last four months? Even as we investigate this matter we expect to be told whether the government has recaptured this data and clear guidelines on the matter,” said the lawmakers.

“It’s interesting that the founder of Worldcoin is from the USA where the project has been banned. The owners are now taking advantage of unemployed youth to lure them into illegal data mining,” said Gilgil MP Martha Wangari during a previous House sitting. 

Ugenya MP David Ochieng alleged that the data protection agency was complicit in the matter given that the company had been licensed to operate in the country.

He also questioned the effectiveness of the country’s intelligence apparatus.

“We demand from the people concerned to know how many Kenyans have so far been scanned. Where are our security agents? Where is the National Intelligence Service? Where is the CID? As parliamentarians we are not investigators because we have agencies to do that,” said Ochieng.

“I want to know from the Cabinet Secretaries of Interior and ICT what remedial measures have been taken since this was discovered and assure Kenyans that they will no longer be used in the wrong manner,” he added.

National Assembly Deputy Speaker Gladys Shollei wondered how the company’s equipment used to scan Kenyans iris’ made it through the airport without the knowledge of customs.

“This matter is bigger than we think it is. If an international organization has information about your citizens, one day you might have to buy it from them. This matter also touches on the Central Bank of Kenya which has never pronounced itself on matters of cryptocurrency. It needs to get involved. The Communications Authority and customs officials should look into this matter,” she said.

Manyatta MP Gitonga Mukunji called on the government to do more to protect citizens.

“I see this as a company that has seen an easy way of coming into the country and obtaining data. It is upon the government to ensure our young people are not misused for a few coins. The next frontier for many wealthy people is the sale of data and we need to put in place stringent measures to safeguard our data,” said Mukunji.