Worldcoin was given greenlight to operate in Kenya, Owalo tells committee

ICT CS Eliud Owalo when he appeared before the Adhoc Committee at the Mini Chambers in Nairobi on September 11, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) gave Worldcoin the greenlight to operate in Kenya, ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo has said.

Owalo, who was appearing before parliament's Ad-hoc committee probing Worldcoin’s operations in the country, said the commission’s office was fully aware that Worldcoin had not met data protection requirements.

Additionally, the Cabinet Secretary said agents who were collecting data on behalf of Worldcoin had not been registered by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

He also expressed concern that Worldcoin began collecting data in Kenya in May 2021 only for the commission to learn this a year later.

“It is a matter of profound concern, even to us at the Ministry that while Worldcoin started collecting data in public places in May 2021, this fact only became known to ODPC in April 2022, (almost a year later), and to the Ministry and other Government officials towards the end of July 2023, after this became a matter of grave public concern,” said Owalo.

He added; “This speaks to surveillance needs of broader concern, going far beyond what any institution could do in isolation.”

Owalo says his ministry will be proposing amendments that will help govern the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

“It is clear from the provisions of the Data Protection Act that the framework for corporate governance for the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner is weak. The office of the ODPC is an independent state office as described under article 260  (q) of the Constitution. The Act does not provide for a Board, or a similar authority, to which the Data Commissioner reports or accounts in its daily operations,” said Owalo.

He added; “To address this issue of governance, we will be proposing amendments along the models of Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) created under the Kenya Information and Communications Act, 1998 or the Media Council of Kenya (MCK).”

On her part, Data Commissioner Immaculate Kassait called on lawmakers to review the Data Protection Act, 2019, and its regulations  to address the gaps in the legal framework.

She made the recomendation when she appeared before the MPs on September 7, 2023.