The personal data dilemma, getting citizens to buy in


Here we go again, the interwebs are ablaze with conversation around the recently announced move by the government to refresh its citizen data trove and enrich it with additional subsets, hoping to haul in biometric, GIS and DNA information under the National Integrated Identity Management System.

Some State corporations such as the National Transport and Safety Authority are also driving sweeping changes in the sectors under their mandate, the NTSA is mopping up additional datasets with the ‘smart’ licence programme.

All this has been sold by key government publics as critical to improved service delivery and core to matters national security, an assumed clear upside that need not be explained even to an increasingly skeptic and spooked target user base.

Regular politics and tender dynamics notwithstanding, the government must understand that it boils down to loss of control for the citizen, not the perception of it but a real resignation to the fact that, there is nothing to cherish as private, from what would be considered mundane from a third party perspective; say a kiss from a special someone, to direct, not inferred, visibility on matters of personal economic benefit or risk.

It is one thing to parade what other nations are doing or have done, Estonia with e-identity and Singapore with SingPass being the posterchild — and quite another to replicate and get acceptance, where the issue is not in the technologies themselves but in the real or perceived avenues of abuse that such a pot of gold would attract.

Citizens must be given control over their data and assured beyond all reasonable doubt that due effort and process has been taken towards its protection across the entire life-cycle of all bits and bytes; from collection, transmission, analysis, storage, retrieval and consumption.

On this issue, the current government can be truly transformational, leaving a descent legacy by ensuring alignment of both policy and infrastructure, coupled with tools that will deliver on the much needed buy-in by the majority population.

The benefits must be real, tangible and relatable. The assets realised, collectively and individually must be securely domiciled in-country with complete transparency on access, whether physically or remotely via application programing interfaces should the platforms be built out as such.

The Data Protection Bill is a work in progress, but in all truth, even once it gets passed as all indicators portend, the ink will not count for much if the majority population views the sum total of interventions as a system of oppression and punitive expression.

Njihia is the Head of Business and Partnerships at Sure Corporation | @mbuguanjihia