Order. Order! The eyes have it

Lifestyle

Order. Order! The eyes have it

Forget fingerprints, Kenya wants to capture the iris patterns, voice waves and DNA of its citizens

Sanet Oberholzer


It is the typical movie scene: the villain grabs some big-shot CEO-type, drags him to the door and mercilessly forces his eye socket against the retina scanner. A red line scans up and down and a green light flashes. Entry is granted.
If this were shot in Kenya, the villain would then proceed to the earlobe and hand scanner, the electronic voice recogniser and the DNA analytics station. Given Kenya’s plans to build a central identification platform that will store not only fingerprints but hand and earlobe geometry, retina and iris patterns, voice waves and DNA, this scenario is plausible. On top of the physical tests, Kenya will require all citizens above the age of six and foreign nationals living there to provide their place of residence, postal address and GPS co-ordinates to precisely identify their geographical location.
The data will then be used to generate a database of a single “source of truth”, as announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta. From there, a unique identification number will be generated and linked to everything – from issuing identity cards to accessing health services, education and social services. The National Integrated Identity Management System will cost about R860m. The pilot system has sparked alarm about ethics, human rights and breaches in the privacy. Questions have been raised about the need to provide personal information to access constitutionally guaranteed services. But the government said the measures aim to fight crime at a time when terrorism has become a serious concern in Kenya.
Last year Kenyan police were made aware of a fake document syndicate that was aiding terror suspects to cross into Kenya. The production of fake identity documents acquired through corrupt networks has long been a problem in Kenya.
The questions concerning the ethics of acquiring personal information for citizen registration come amid revelations of an insecure Chinese database of unknown origin that listed the information of 1.8 million single, divorced or widowed women. The database included the women’s sex, age, education, marital status, addresses, phone numbers and information on how “breed ready” they are – whether or not they have children or are of childbearing age. The database was subsequently taken down last week after being discovered by a Dutch researcher.
This is one example of how personal information can be abused and used against the very people who provide the information, knowingly or unknowingly. But if corruption and production of fake identity documents in Kenya has become endemic, who is to say the new system won’t be abused – this time placing the very DNA of Kenya’s citizens at risk?

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