Kenya’s Ad hoc committee has conducted investigations into the actions of Worldcoin, a company accused of mining data from Kenyans through the scanning of their irises in exchange for cryptocurrency tokens. The committee, led by Narok West MP Gabriel Tongoyo, has alleged that Worldcoin’s activities constitute acts of espionage and pose a threat to the sovereignty of the state. This article delves into the findings of the committee’s investigations and explores the need for comprehensive legislation and oversight in Kenya’s digital economy.
Worldcoin has faced scrutiny for its data mining activities, which involved scanning the irises of Kenyans in various locations across Nairobi. The committee’s investigations revealed that Worldcoin operated in 30 different locations, including malls and learning institutions, starting in May 2021. The company’s actions have raised concerns over potential violations of Kenyan laws, such as the Data Protection Act, Consumer Protection Act, and Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act.
The Ad hoc committee has called for the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to probe two foreign companies associated with Worldcoin, Tools for Humanity (TFH) Corp and Tools for Humanity (TFH) GmbH. These companies are believed to be operating illegally in Kenya, as they do not appear in the Business Registration Services database of registered businesses. This lack of registration invalidates their legal mandate to conduct any business in Kenya.
Worldcoin’s application for registration as a data controller came a year after commencing its activities in Kenya, which violates the Data Protection Act of 2019. The committee found that Worldcoin collected real-time iris images and converted them into digital code, which were then transmitted to third-party servers located overseas. While the company claims to have securely stored the data in Amazon Web Services in South Africa, uncertainties remain regarding the ability to retract and delete the data when necessary. Additionally, the transfer of personal data outside of Kenya may not comply with Section 48 of the Data Protection Act.
The investigation disclosed that approximately 350,000 Kenyans had registered with Worldcoin by the time the government suspended the company’s activities on August 2, 2023. This large number of registrations highlights the widespread impact of Worldcoin’s operations and raises concerns about the protection of Kenyan citizens’ rights and data.
Kenya’s National Assembly members have criticized the Information, Communication, and the Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary, Eliud Owalo, for providing misleading information regarding Worldcoin’s operations. Owalo initially affirmed that Worldcoin was operating within the parameters of the Data Protection Act 2019 but denied making such statements during the committee’s proceedings. This discrepancy led the members to censure him for misleading the public.
The ongoing saga surrounding Worldcoin’s activities highlights the need for comprehensive legislation and oversight in Kenya’s rapidly evolving digital economy. The committee recommended legislative intervention to regulate the collection of biodata, taking into account considerations such as privacy, security, health concerns, and human rights. Members of the National Assembly are pushing for amendments to the law to grant the Office of the Data Protection Commission (ODPC) more discretion in imposing administrative fines and aligning the Data Protection Act with global standards. Proposals for the creation of a board to oversee the Commissioner’s daily operations and ensure stricter compliance with data protection matters are also on the table.
To prevent further instances of illegal operations, the committee recommends implementing stricter requirements for foreign companies seeking registration as data processors or controllers in Kenya. These companies would need to provide proof of registration with local regulatory bodies and disclose how they utilize and store collected personal and sensitive data.
The Ad hoc committee’s investigation into Worldcoin’s activities has shed light on the importance of comprehensive legislation and oversight in Kenya’s digital economy. By addressing the alleged violations of Kenyan laws and proposing amendments to existing legislation, steps can be taken to protect the rights and data of the Kenyan public. Stricter requirements for foreign companies can also ensure compliance with local regulations and prevent further illegal activities in the future.