Three Ways Kenya’s ID System Can Improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
At a July 30th, government-hosted public forum in Nairobi, the public questioned why Huduma Namba, shorthand for the Kenya government’s new national ID system, will replace existing forms of ID. They also raised concerns about the shift to an identification system that is compulsory, collects significantly more data to form one, super ID that unlocks multiple services, centralizes that data in one place, and takes a digital form. The current national ID is not mandatory, yet different forms of ID are required to access individual services (e.g., medical and voter’s registration), and the information about individuals is distributed across several institutions in both digital and analog forms. Underneath their concerns about the shift, the public has asked “Is Huduma Namba designed to exclude people?”.
The foundation of Good ID is the principle of inclusion. Good ID policies make digital ID systems accessible and fair with inclusive practices and features.
The Huduma Namba debates in Kenya provide a timely example of the most consequential decisions governments make about digital identity. As noted, the related bill, which was introduced mid-July, would lead to significant policy changes.
Given concerns of potential exclusion in this case, we believe the Kenyan government should pause the registration process and spend time in further nationwide consultation before advancing any identity legislation. During this time, it will be important to consider the system’s impact on inclusion of marginalized communities alongside the other elements of Good ID: privacy, security, user value, user control, transparency, and accountability.
Specifically, the government should examine the purpose of the ID system, the amount of data being collected, and the mandatory enrollment and use clauses.
1. Purpose of the ID system
There is great merit in embedding a clearly-defined objective and limited scope of use of an ID system in national legislation. At first blush, this might seem obvious and self-evident, but the Kenya bill allows for at least 16 use cases, and this can result in several problems including mission creep, lack of trust, and possibilities of misuse of the system. In the case of Huduma Namba, narrowing the purpose will be an important pillar around which to build safeguards and enhance trust between all stakeholders.
One of the most consequential decisions about an ID system is whether it is built to establish the unique identity of individuals or it is designed to determine whether someone is a citizen of a country. To be inclusive, the system should collect minimal data points—those that the entire population, including noncitizens, can provide. Naturally, such minimal data collection can only verify that a person is indeed the same person that she claims to be. But with that baseline, residents can enroll in school, gain employment, seek health services, and open a bank account.
If the ID program is designed to establish the citizenship of a person, then the level of authentic documentation that is required is significantly higher. This can lead to exclusion of the most vulnerable populations, including marginalized citizens who do not have access to such documentation, and further disempower them from participating in the formal economy and society. This approach can also lead to separate processes for different groups, risking inequity and discrimination. It can also give the government an incomplete picture of the entire population.
Adding individuals from marginalized groups to poorly designed digital ID systems that track their location or record their ethnicity and religion will only intensify their vulnerability. In such cases, it may be better not to issue a (digital) ID at all.
To include the most people in an ID system, they must have confidence in the system’s privacy. Privacy is a fundamental human right. We believe it is the obligation of the Kenyan government to ensure individual privacy. If privacy is missing or lacking depth, a digital ID system will not demonstrate value and truly empower individuals. Privacy can be protected by making appropriate design choices and establishing a robust governance framework. For example, any legislation authorizing digital ID should:
- Limit the amount of data collected,
- Give individuals the legal right to change how their identity information is used,
- Enable full disclosure of how identity data will be used,
- Proactively notify individuals when privacy policies change.
Lastly, we believe privacy is not possible without security. Alongside rigorous cybersecurity practices and defensible systems, Kenya must also pass, fund, and enable robust data protection legislation before any new ID system is introduced, and especially one as widespread as the Huduma Namba.
3. Enrollment and use
Target 16.9 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals calls for “legal identity for all”. Simply put, anyone who wants a legally-recognized ID should be able to get one, free from discrimination or limitation, from the country where they legally reside and the institutions they trust. At the same time, individuals should also have access to alternative means of identification and choices in how they identify themselves.
In its current form, the Huduma Namba Bill 2019 does not reflect the principle of choice nor accommodate alternative forms of identification, to which the public reacted with concern about the risk of exclusion, discrimination, and violations of human rights.
Constitutional protections: The Kenyan Constitution affords certain rights and privileges, including registration documents. The Constitution, however, does not make registration mandatory. Legal groups are currently challenging Huduma Namba’s constitutionality with the High Court, in part for its compulsory nature.
Prerequisites for service: Under the draft bill, a Huduma card will be required to access any government service (such as healthcare), register marriage, and even set up electricity connections. Coupled with the issues above, this can prevent some vulnerable populations from securing basic services, especially women, ethnic and religious minorities, refugees, and stateless individuals who often experience more difficulty securing a legal ID.
Fees and fines: While the first issuance of the ID card will be free, according to the bill, the government can apply fees for replacement of lost or damaged cards. If an individual does not register, the proposed bill leaves room for significant fines and incarceration. This approach has the potential to disproportionately affect low-income residents. For example, they may have a more difficult time staying in compliance with the law because of their inability to pay.
Discriminatory rules: Many segments of the population will also be held to a higher standard of participation. Mothers will be required to register births within a certain time frame, and women will have to indicate their marital status at the time of such birth; no such obligation is required of a father. Additionally, the bill does not offer a clear process for refugees, asylum seekers, stateless individuals, and other special cases to obtain legal identity documents, including the Somali, Nubian, and Shona communities in Kenya.
Lack of remedies: The proposal bill grants the government power to cancel an individual’s enrollment over “any other justifiable cause.” Many vulnerable communities with experience in government overreach are fearful they will lose their ID and access to services as well as be penalized with fines and jail time with no fair way to make their case, re-apply, and remedy the situation.
Capacity of the government: The draft ID bill inadequately details how the government will provide the reliable infrastructure required to support its own requirement—mass enrollment and ongoing use of the Huduma Namba. The public should not held accountable, if the government isn’t able to fulfill its role as administrator of the system.
To enable important discussions on each of these issues, we believe the Kenyan government should postpone the advancement of this bill (and Huduma Namba registration) until after it can complete diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and privacy impact assessments and address any risks and gaps.
Kenya’s diverse civil society organizations have a special role to play in this. They have a unique ability to represent public interests in this type of process, play a constructive role, and hold governments and businesses accountable for good policy, technology, and practice. They bring evidence and experience to the debate. They have seen outcomes of poorly-designed systems, and people struggle to secure identification. They have also witnessed a generation exponentially empowered by safe, trusted, and useful forms of identification.
Do you have ideas on how to ensure digital identity systems reflect and honor diversity, promote equity, and support true inclusion in practice? Please share them in the comments or at www.Good-ID.org.
In a country as diverse as Kenya, it is important that its laws honor all people’s experiences and needs. Designing for diversity, equity, and inclusion in its national ID system is one way to enable broader financial, social, and political inclusion and development. For example, future legislation on identity can specifically require:
- Equal and fair opportunity for everyone to establish and use (digital) identities that they can use to authenticate themselves when needed or desired
- Limits to the number and type of situations when any (digital) ID is mandatory
- Alternatives when individuals wish to participate, but not use a particular form of ID
- Low barriers in establishing and using identities, such as requiring minimal data to register and authenticate
- Safeguards against discrimination, such as processing applications inconsistently among different ethnic groups, religions, and gender identities
- Mechanisms to manage unintended consequences, such as clerical or technology errors that exclude individuals who should be able to apply for and use digital ID, and remediation for any related harms