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Case Filed to Stop New Digital ID Register in Kenya

On the 18th of February 2019, the government of Kenya rolled out the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS), more popularly known as Huduma Namba (Swahili for “Service Number”). The system is intended to create and operate a national population register as a single source of information about citizens and foreign residents. It has been referred to by the government as the “single source of truth” in regards to citizenship documentation in the country.

Four days before, on the 14th of February, Nubian Rights Forum (NRF), a Namati partner organization, filed a case in the High Court of Kenya Constitutional and Human Rights Division to try and stop its rollout. NIIMS, they stated, is in breach of the constitution as it violates the right to privacy Article 31, the right to equality, and the right to non-discrimination in the bill of rights, as well as the right to public participation.

Other institutions like Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights filed similar cases on the 18th of February 2019.

NIIMS was established through changes made to the Registration of Persons Act via a Miscellaneous Amendments Bill and came into force on January 18, 2019, a mere 19 days after the President gave his assent. No public consultation was conducted.  

Under the Act, the government will have the authority to collect including biometric data, including GPS location of their home address, DNA, and land registration number. The system also merges several registers including National Transport Safety Authority register that captures individuals’ vehicles and driving history, civil registry (births and deaths), registration of persons register that has ID details, and immigration register that has passport details.

The law, however, is not clear on who is in charge of the data, what data can be accessed and by whom, or on the role of the citizens in giving consent in what data should be shared. Without a data protection act in place, the Kenyan government will be exposing citizens to the risk of major data breaches. There needs to be protection beyond the assurance from the permanent secretary that it would “take at least 10 geniuses working for long hours to hack [the system].” NIIMS poses a clear threat to an individual’s constitutional right to privacy, including the right not to have information relating to their family or private affairs unnecessarily required or revealed.

Of further concern is the statement by the government that no one will access government services without a Huduma Namba. This is a violation of fundamental rights protected under the bill of rights: public services should not be pegged to documentation. If the government proceeds, they risk further marginalizing communities like the Kenyan Somali and Nubian communities who already face discriminatory treatment when applying for identity documents—which will be required to obtain the Huduma Namba.

A member of Kenya’s Nubian community holds up an ID card obtained with the assistance of Namati’s partner, the Nubian Rights Forum.

To secure an ID card, members of these communities have to apply on certain days and are subject to extra scrutiny including appearing in front of a security panel to prove their nationality or having their parents provide their thumbprints on the application forms. If the registrar currently has the discretion to ask for additional documentation, despite it being contrary to article 27 of the constitution of Kenya, it is safe to assume that they could start demanding that these community members provide their DNA as there is now a legal provision under the law.

The litigation initiated by Nubian Rights Forum is an attempt to protect the rights of these community members and the nation at large, as enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya.

Unfortunately, the court did not grant provisional orders to stop the NIIMS pilot, despite the NRF case being certified as urgent. The matter is scheduled for hearing on the 6th of March 2019.

As NRF moves forward with the litigation, they are working to ensure the communities they represent are informed and actively involved. NRF community paralegals hold information sessions to take people through the case and the process in detail, and mobilize the community to attend court sessions. They are focused on ensuring ann empowering litigation process, where communities and individuals learn of their right to shape the law and the process by which it is done.

UPDATE: Read about the court case, our partners’ new efforts, and the challenges ahead here.

February 26, 2019 | Mustafa Mahmoud

Region: Kenya