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Economy

Mozilla tips Kenya on biometric registration

Huduma Namba
Huduma Namba registration in May 2019. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG 

Global internet applications developer Mozilla has called for openness as African governments shift to digital IDs, saying increased transparency cuts legal battles.

In a policy brief based on its review of digital ID systems rollout in Kenya and India, Mozilla Corporation says concerns over privacy, security, competition, and social inclusion are unlikely to go away soon.

“The rush by governments and the international development community to deploy digital, and often biometric, identity systems is often leading to mass surveillance and denial of vital government services and benefits,” said Mozilla’s public policy lead for Africa, Alice Munyua.

“We believe that the concept of openness provides a useful framework to guide and critique these choices and to ensure that identity systems put people first.”

In Kenya, an ambitious effort to issue citizens with a unique identity (Huduma Namba) “as a single source of truth about their identity” is yet to become a reality, almost a year after a national biometric registration that recorded face and fingerprint details of 40 million people.

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Civil society groups led by Nubian Rights Forum moved to court, saying most its members risked being excluded from services once the State assigns citizens a unique number.

Court ruled that the implementation of the National Integrated Identity Management System (Niims) be put on hold until a legislation is in place to ensure the system does not discriminate against any group.

According to the Mozilla policy brief, data protection laws should be in force and a strong regulator put in place before the rollout of any national biometric ID project.

It also recommends that governments place equal emphasis on ensuring individuals are not denied essential services simply because they lack digital IDs.

“This is particularly vital for those marginalised in society who might feel the most at risk of profiling and will value the ability to restrict the sharing of information across contexts,” said Ms Munyua, who is also one of the authors of Mozilla’s paper.

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