Digital Identity in Kenya: Case Study Conducted as Part of a Ten-country Exploration of Socio-digital ID Systems in Parts of Africa

Like many other African countries, Kenya is implementing a digital ID programme. However, Kenya’s digital ID comes with a lot of baggage, as it is an upgrade of its national identification document that has been in place since the colonial period. The national identity card is also a citizenship document that is required for movement within the country, access to buildings, access to government services such as education and health insurance, and access to private services such as employment and even for registration of a SIM card. Policy advocates therefore warn that moving to digital ID is not as easy as digitising the analogue register of persons, but will also involve solving issues of inclusion and belonging for communities that have had challenges accessing identification documentation over the last century. In considering the challenges and opportunities of digitising an existing system such as Kenya’s, the report finds that the main challenge with the legal framework is that it prioritises introduction of technology without resolving many other problems identified with the registration of persons law. Existing problems such as the discretionary powers of registration officers to issue the national identification card or lack of coherence between the Registration of Persons Act (RPA) and other citizenship laws persist. There are also concerns arising out of the National Registration Bureau - the office charged with registration of persons - being housed within the ministry of interior security. First, is the tendency to securitise registration of persons, where the lack of a national identification card is not only a criminal offence but presents an opportunity for a person to be harassed by law enforcement officers. Second, the police have appropriated for themselves a role in reputation management through practices such as issuance of police clearance certificates. Through this process, the police have normalised access to the national identification database, a practice that has greater implications in the digital age. These problems could be solved through having a paradigm shift on identification documentation as a right as opposed to the current practices of securitisation. This can partly be achieved through a governing structure that is dedicated to resolution of citizenship and identification issues. The identification regime should also be more people-centric by providing opportunities for every person whose data is captured to not only have access to their data, but to also know who else has access to their data and for what reason. In view of the fact that the digital ID programme aims to create a population management database, the need for independent oversight for issues such as data sharing cannot be overemphasised.