A new nation-wide biometric identification program in Kenya was suspended by the country’s high court until new laws are enacted that protect the data collected and prevent discrimination against minorities.
In a 500-page report to be released this week, the court’s three-judge panel announced that it is suspending the biometric ID program until the government has “an appropriate and comprehensive regulatory framework” in place with regards to the data and the treatment of minorities.
Registry in the ID program would assign a Huduma Namba — or “service number” — to each resident and would become a requirement for all Kenyan citizens and foreign residents to be able to access services like healthcare, education, public housing, voting, obtaining a marriage license or even getting a cell phone.
The program — known as the National Integrated Management System (NIMS) — was introduced last year and has already managed to collect data from nearly 40 million Kenyans during a mass registration period in April and May.
Data collected for the NIMS database includes personal and biometric data such as fingerprints, facial photographs and residential addresses.
Though biometric registration programs have become more common around the world, they are controversial to many. In Kenya, civil rights groups have challenged the constitutionality of the NIMS program, expressing concerns not only over data privacy, but also the marginalization of minorities, who already have a difficult time obtaining the kind of government documentation needed to register for NIMS.
“We are hopeful that this judgment is a milestone in the quest for equality for all Kenyans,” said Yussuf Bashir, a lawyer representing the Nubian Rights Forum.
Comparison’s have been made to India’s massive biometric program — known as Aadhaar — which had its powers similarly reigned in by India’s Supreme Court in 2018.
February 3, 2020 – by Tony Bitzionis