Worldcoin caught State flatfooted, Interior CS Kithure Kindiki says

Kithure Kindiki.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

The national government has admitted that it doesn’t know the source of money Worldcoin has been dishing out to Kenyans and the whereabouts of data collected by the company, even as MPs castigated State officials for being lax.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki and his Information, Communication and Digital Economy counterpart Eliud Owalo were on Wednesday (August 9, 2023) taken to task by lawmakers over the safety of data collected by the company amid reports that its website has been pulled down.

Although Prof Kindiki informed members of the National Assembly that the government has preservation orders barring the company from processing the data, MPs insisted on being told where the data has been stored and if it has been shipped to a foreign country.

Prof Kindiki told the MPs the government has hired experts who have guaranteed that the data can be retrieved.

During a stormy session on the floor of the House on Wednesday afternoon, the two ministers struggled to answer the MPs’ questions, with Speaker Moses Wetang’ula directing that they appear again on Wednesday next week.

“I want to assure Kenyans that there is no cause for alarm, we have already obtained a court stopping the processing of the data. We are also making good progress in the investigations,” Prof Kindiki said. The government is treating the Worldcoin issue as a national security threat, he said.

CS Owalo says Worldcoin operating within law amid security concerns

“The Sh7, 000 inducement is an area of concern to us. Processors of data must obtain consent and if it was sought, it wasn’t an informed consent and we intend to use this to nail the people involved,” Prof Kindiki said.

Mr Owalo was at pains to explain how Worldcoin was registered to carry out its operations in the country. While he told MPs that Worldcoin is duly registered with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, he clarified that it was not licensed to collect data from Kenyans without following legal procedures.

“Registration does not imply that a company has been given a blanket authority to do what it likes. The certification simply seems the company is known to the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner,”Mr Owalo said.

However, MPs criticised his answers as falling far short of addressing the real questions Kenyans are asking.

“If this was a foreign company, was it registered under the Foreign Company Act? And, if not, there are consequences which should be applied,” said Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma.

Speaker Moses Wetang’ula asked the CSs to provide information on who authorised the company to conduct its operations at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, which is a government facility.

“Was there a lapse in intelligence? Whatever these people were doing was in public and they put out an advertisement; that’s why people came,” Tharaka MP George Murugara said.

“Is there a disconnect between National Intelligence Service and other security agencies?” Kitui Central MP Makali Mulu said.

Embakasi South MP Julius Mawathe lamented that a security lapse had allowed strangers into the country to harvest the biometric data of Kenyans and the government didn’t even know why.