What you need to know:
- In Kenya, we are witnessing technological developments that give great cause for concern.
- Many citizens have received messages from telecommunication firms to urgently “update” their SIM card registration details.
The digital revolution has brought new economic opportunities and the ability to access and share information more freely to many. But the technologies have had an impact on our civic rights. For example, artificial intelligence, the (mis)use of algorithms, facial recognition and other forms of biometric surveillance.
Our rights to data privacy are quickly fading in a world in which the long arm of governments and private actors can wield digital surveillance equipment. This presents a serious threat to our freedom of expression.
The 2021 revelations about the use of Pegasus spyware are but one example of grave misuses of technologies to in surveillance and control of journalists and human rights defenders.
In Kenya, we are witnessing technological developments that give great cause for concern. Many citizens have received messages from telecommunication firms to urgently “update” their SIM card registration details. This is not new.
Many African countries now have mandatory SIM card registration. But what causes confusion and concern among customers is that the telcos require facial recognition as an additional layer of registration in the Communication Authority of Kenya directives.
What exactly is “facial recognition” ? Is there an effort under way to go beyond making copies of ID documents? How do additional registration requirements square with the provisions of the Data Protection Act? And while telcos are ambiguous as regards the updates, the CA only refers one back to its regulations on collection of registration details.
Given the global controversy surrounding facial recognition and its potential for increased surveillance that could chill civic participation, communication about it should be much more transparent. The messaging raises concerns of a plot to increase data collection for the purposes of surveillance.
Widely recognised as Africa’s ‘Silicon Savannah’, Kenya has made strides in expanding digital technologies for societal good. It is high time it matched the credentials with an equal level of responsibility in the regulation, design and use of technology.
One way to achieve that is to apply the principles of open government. It’s critical that Kenya reaffirm its commitment as a member of the Open Government Partnership’s (OGP), now marking its 10th anniversary, to promote inclusive digital technologies that safeguard citizens from intrusive data harnessing and surveillance.
In its paper, “Innovations in Democratic Oversight of Surveillance from Open Government Partnership Members”, the OGP says that limited surveillance is an important foundation for open and democratic societies.
Practical ways to do that include transparent and clear communication; inclusively seeking input from citizens and civil society on the purpose and extent of SIM card registration; full guarantee of data minimisation (collecting and retaining only personal data that is strictly necessary); and clear rules of accountability for state authorities and private operators implementing the re-registration.
It’s essential that the authorities clarify all aspects of the re-registration process, compel operators to provide adequate information and rule out collection or use of data that could increase surveillance.
Ms Akinyi is regional communications manager at Hivos East Africa. [email protected]