Let’s not sacrifice our privacy for security

A police officer frisks a lady at JKIA in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A police officer frisks a lady at JKIA in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

I watched in horror as private security guards manning the gates to a high-end building manhandled a woman and her toddler under the pretext that they were doing their work.

My intervention did not deter these goons from directing the woman to open all doors and compartments in her car as she held her baby.

I was livid, knowing that in 2010, Kenyans ushered a new constitution with a formidable Bill of Rights and here I was witnessing some askaris (security guards) trampling over it.

I do not think that they had a clue that Kenyans have a right to privacy, which includes the right not to have their person, home or property unduly searched.

When I took up the matter with management, they simply said that it was a requirement that every person entering their building is searched.


Across the world, the rise of terrorism has made organisations adopt some security arrangements, but they try to balance between privacy and security.

While there is no one single watertight measure in the security arrangement, there are different models that enable some level of decorum.

The probability of a typical Kenyan urbanite woman with a toddler being a terrorist in Kenya is closer to zero compared to that of a middle-aged man.

After all, many of the terrorist attacks that we have witnessed in Kenya were virtually done by young males. None of those men was carrying a baby.

There was therefore no basis for harassing a young woman carrying a toddler. Further, her demeanour and instinctive reaction to hold on to her child was never suggestive of what the askaris may have suspected.

There is need to provide security training to many of these guards that dot virtually every building demanding all sorts of data from the Kenyan people.

They want your identity number, your phone number as well as your car registration number but no one explains what they do with the data.
We have simply stripped ourselves of our privacy under the guise of security.

As far as I know, there is no legal requirement for anyone to provide such detailed information about themselves without guarantees that it will not be used to violate their rights. But more important, we must be willing to deal with biased subtleties towards women.

The askaris excitement and tone towards the woman made me believe that there was more than just dealing with any individual visiting their facility.

In my considered judgment, those askaris were recent migrants from rural areas and need serious training on the progress we have made on women issues to seamlessly incorporate them into urban Kenya and the relationship between privacy and security.

The use of emerging technology solutions may make it less intrusive than current methods.

It is possible to deploy facial recognition closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras that are linked to the National Registration Bureau so that if the systems cannot recognise a person, then that person is politely asked to step aside for verification of their identity.

The system can be extended to other databases like immigration such that even foreigners visiting the country can be easily identified since most of such data is captured at the point of entry.

While I understand that the intention of security checks is to keep us safe, we need to know that the information that we give freely is for our protection and that privacy considerations are adhered to.

But when we lack the information with respect to the uses of the data we provide to the many strict surveillance programmes, we lose the faith that security agents understand the balance between privacy and security.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, once said: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

It is fallacious to belief that the relationship between privacy and security is as a zero-sum game, by which security can only be attained by sacrifice of privacy.