The Interior ministry has on Wednesday, August 2, suspended data collection activities by Worldcoin - an iris biometric cryptocurrency project - to allow for all security concerns to be addressed.
In a morning statement signed by Interior CS Kithure Kindiki, the need to satisfactorily public safety and integrity of financial transactions involving a large number of citizens was cited as the reason for the suspension.
“The government is concerned by the ongoing activities of an organisation calling itself “World Coin” which is involved in the registration of citizens through the collection of eyeball/iris data.
“Relevant security, financial services and data protection agencies have commenced inquiries and investigations to establish the authenticity and legality of aforesaid activities, the safety and protection of the data being harvested, and how the harvesters intend to use the data,” the statement reads in part.
This coming on the same day when the Cabinet Secretary for ICT and Digital Economy, Eliud Owlao, said that Worldcoin - owned by American Artificial Intelligence (AI) company OpenAI - was operating legally in Kenya.
In an interview on NTV, Owalo revealed that the government was aware of Worldcoin’s operations in the country and that the company had received government clearance several months back.
“This is something that started way back in April . We have a fully-fledged Data Commissioner’s office charged with the regulation of data security and privacy. In April, the office of the Data Commissioner got wind of Worldcoin and wrote them a letter to clarify what they wanted to do,” Owalo said.
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Directly addressing the concerns that have been voiced by many Kenyans over the safety of the data being collected, Owalo affirmed that the organisation had not breached any Kenyan law.
“Information available to the Data Commissioner is that within the existing legal frameworks is that there is no provision in the law that the organisation has breached. There could be security and regulatory issues around it which we need to improve, but as far as the Data Act is concerned, they were acting within the law.”
Indeed, the register of data controllers and processors at the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) shows that Worldcoin is registered as a data processor in Kenya. This is under its parent company’s name Tools for Humanity GmbH which is based in Berlin.
In the Wednesday statement, Interior CS Kindiki warned Kenyans against ignoring the suspension stating that appropriate action would be taken.
The organisation says that by Tuesday, August 1, over 350,000 Kenyans had registered for Worldcoin which rewards one upon registration with coin tokens worth Ksh7,000.
This is believed to be one of the biggest motivations for Kenyans queuing in droves at registration centres including the KICC which had to be suspended Tuesday by the police citing security concerns.
“Appropriate action will be taken on any natural or juristic person who furthers, aids, abets or otherwise engages in or is connected with the activities,” the statement further adds.
Earlier on July 28, the ODPC had cautioned Kenyans against registering for Worldcoin saying that it was still engaging the organisation to ensure it was compliant with the Data Protection Act, 2019.
“As the ODPC conducts its assessment of Worldcoin’s practices to ensure compliance with the law, Kenyans are urged to ensure they receive proper information before disclosing any personal or sensitive data. Individuals are advised to thoroughly inquire about how the data will be used,” the statement reads in part.