January 31, 2020 / 3:00 PM / 18 days ago

Court orders safeguards for Kenyan digital IDs, bans DNA collecting

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s high court said the government could go ahead with a new digital ID scheme, as long as it brought in stronger regulations and did not use it to collect citizens’ DNA and geo-location data.

FILE PHOTO: A view from a high-rise building shows part of the city of Nairobi, Kenya, January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

Rights groups had argued the scheme violated privacy and asked the judges to outlaw the whole system - under which people will get a single ID number and a card that will give them access to public services.

The government says thousands of people have already signed up for the Huduma Namba - “service number” in KiSwahili - plan and agreed to give fingerprints and get entered on a database. It argues the scheme will cut through red tape.

The judges ruled late on Thursday that Huduma Namba could continue, with conditions.

It would be unconstitutional to collect DNA and global positioning system (GPS) data - as had been suggested in early versions of the plans for the scheme - they said.

“The government may continue with its exercise to implement biometric and use of data on the condition that it will enact relevant data protection laws,” the high court added in its ruling.

In November, Kenya passed a data protection law which complies with European Union legal standards, part of its effort to attract investment in its information technology sector.

The government on Friday said that it has begun issuing the new system’s ID cards to Kenyans who were already registered.

One of the three rights groups that challenged the program said it had taken heart from some parts of the judges’ ruling.

“The court noted that the roll-out was rushed, agreeing with the assertions of the petitioners, and that the legislative framework for the program was inadequate,” said George Kegoro, head of Kenya Human Rights Commission.

Reporting by Humphrey Malalo and Omar Mohammed; editing by Maggie Fick and Andrew Heavens

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