US blocked Worldcoin officials arrest, CS says

Worldcoin Cofounder Alex Blania

Worldcoin Cofounder Alex Blania (left ) and his Chief Legal Officer Thomas Scott  appear before the National Assembly’s ad hoc committee investigating the firm’s operations on September 6, 2023 

Photo credit: dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki has revealed that the United States government blocked Kenya from detaining American citizens behind the Worldcoin project.

Prof Kindiki made the revelations when he appeared before an ad hoc committee of the National Assembly investigating Worldcoin’s activities in the country.

“They tried to leave the country but were stopped and put in custody. However, the US government intervened saying they should be allowed to leave because they haven’t yet been found guilty of committing a crime and gave an undertaking that it will produce them when required,” Prof Kindiki said.

The committee chaired by Narok West MP Gabriel Tongoyo has until September 28 to table its findings.

Tools for Humanity (TFH) registered in the US and TFH (Gmbh) registered in Germany are behind the cryptocurrency project Worldcoin. One of the co-founders, Mr Alex Blania, a US citizen, has already apeared before the committee.

Among those who had been arrested at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport as they left the country are Mr Blania and Mr Thomas Scott, TFH’s legal spokesman.

Prof Kindiki told the committee that the government recovered orbs and other electronic gadgets used for collecting iris data. The gadgets, he said, have been submitted to the Communications Authority and the cyber forensic laboratory for analysis.

“This will enable the investigators to ascertain the exact number of people in Kenya who were signed up and their sensitive personal data collected as well as the capability of the apparatus, possible health implications and whether they were authorised for use in the country,” the CS said. “Pertinent documents relevant to the investigations have also been recovered and are currently being analysed, with 26 statements recorded from witnesses and persons of interest.”

According to Prof Kindiki, cryptocurrency is a cybersecurity issue and a tool for organised crime that exposes the country’s territorial integrity. He noted that while security threats were previously limited to land, sea and air, the increased cyberattacks and the Worldcoin phenomenon pose a new challenge.

“What worries me is the kind of data that was mined in the country. Scanning of irises is deeply intrusive and experts believe that it has biological consequences that could be disastrous,” he said noting that “data is becoming the gold of the future and whoever controls and processes it has sway”.

Worldcoin started its operations in the country as early as 2020 offering educational programmes on cryptocurrency. It wasn’t until towards the end of July 2022 that it emerged that it was engaged in collecting biometric data from people in Kenya by way of scanning their irises in exchange for cryptocurrency pay equivalent to Sh7,000 per individual.

By the time its activities were suspended on August 2, Mr Blania told the committee that at least 350,000 people had registered. This means that if those who registered were paid an equivalent of Sh7,000, about Sh2.5 billion found its way into the economy.

Prof Kindiki told the committee that there could be a correlation between cryptocurrency and money laundering, terrorism financing, trade in narcotics and psychotropic drugs and other illicit cash flows because of lack of regulation.

“It is a plausible ground for money laundering and terrorism financing to move assets around without detection and therefore hurting the country,” he said.

He added; “the government suspects that cryptocurrency could expose the country to illicit cash flows because it is not a legal tender and therefore falls outside the ambit of the Central Bank of Kenya.”