NIIMS and its Huduma Number would have been one of the best things to happen to this country, only if Kenyans trusted their government to be responsible with data. Ease of monitoring, service delivery and security prioritization taken into account, it only makes sense to have important data at a single source. This is where the world is headed and we had better start the journey if we retain any ambition of being a developed Republic in another decade. At the very least, it is what the Jubilee government promised when they took to power.
But there is a problem. For starters, the whole exercise commences in the absence of clear policy guidelines and an enabling law. Without these, there is no telling with certainty the information that will be sought by the Registrar of Persons, what the information will be used for, how the system will be protected, who will have access and how errors will be corrected. If countries that were better prepared than ours have had trouble maintaining similar registration systems, what chance does Kenya, with zero structures, have? In India for example, the difficulties in functionality and security fears have led the Supreme Court to draw back massively on the original intent and capability of its system, Aadhar. A pot of confusion and conveyor belt of lawsuits is the most we can hope for with NIIMS.
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Several things are likely to happen. A Kenyan walks to a registration booth and very private information is sought. On account of fatigue, the recording clerk makes an erroneous entry. Because of a wrong profile, a few months down the line this poor Kenyan will have no access to basic services. Sadly he will not be able to correct the error, not in good time as he is not only unable to access the data but also the process of resolving such problems remains a mystery. In the meantime, he will suffer inconvenience and continue to be denied access to services. It’s also plausible that human interference and system failure will lead to a massive loss or mix up of stored information leading to a similar denial of services.
It’s anything but farfetched. The State of Aadhar Report 2017-18, found that in just three Indian states, nearly two million people were excluded from access to food subsidies owing to massive hitches.
Part of information sought by the registrar of persons are a person’s biometrics, health indices, their precise location and their DNA. Biometrics and DNA are also used during voting, in banks for the verification of the identity of cardholders, at crime scenes. This information could end up in the wrong hands and in the process, compromise the right to privacy, security and freedom. Again, a report by Center for Internet and Society (CIS) recently revealed the Indian Government inadvertently published biographic and demographic data linked with Aadhar on 135 million Indians on the open Internet.
Sometime ago, Ghana also sought to create a national ID system with the support of World Bank. The Ghana programme was administered by the National Identification Authority (NIA) and, just like Kenya, aimed to implement a digital national ID. Like Kenya too, they contracted OT-Morpho to carry out the process. When government failed to pay them, Morpho ceased work on the project and refused to release the sensitive registration data it had collected to government.
Systems fail all the time. Does government have the capacity to prevent such malfunction or loss of the information to hackers? Cyber terrorism is the new frontier for war and if developed countries such as the Unites States can be affected and their sovereignty interfered with, hackers will have a field day with our hurriedly executed plan!
This is another very sensitive issue on which the Nubian Rights Forum and the Kenya Human Rights Commission have gone to court. They contend, and the Nairobi Law Monthly agrees, that the process is discriminatory to northern communities, many of whom, though Kenyans by birth, have consistently suffered from Kenya’s discriminatory and registration and identity documentation practices.
How do we identify ourselves when we have never been identified? That is the question these communities grapple with. Many fear victimization. They see this as an excuse to fish them out as refugees, sympathizers of extremist groups and illegal immigrants and send them back to their home countries. Tracing the history of Government’s reaction to terror attacks, their fear is anything but unfounded.
Rolling out a programme of such magnitude through a miscellaneous amendment leaves a lot to be desired. Such a procedure does not benefit from the constitutional demand of public participation and as such, is wrong ab initio. If people are going to prostrate ourselves naked before government, at the very least, they deserve to be included in the process. (