Kenya: Human Rights Groups Call for Halt to Maisha Number Roll-Out

14 September 2023

Nairobi — A league of 10 local human rights groups now want the Government to halt the planned roll-out of the Maisha Number, Unique Personal Identifier (UPI) slated for September 29.

The groups cited inadequate public participation and lack of robust legal framework in enacting the Maisha number as among their main areas of concern even as the country gears to transition to third generation identity cards.

Their call comes two days after the National Steering Committee for Digital Identity approved the proposals made by the national digital identity technical committee to have a National Digital ID implemented.

The organizations opposed to the 'rushed' Maisha Number roll out include; the Nubian Rights Forum, Namati Kenya, Centre for Minority Development, Kenya Human Rights Commission Defenders Coalition, Access Now, Katiba Institute, Haki Na Sheria Initiative, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa and Pastoralists Rights and Advocacy Network.

"We reinforce that the opaque rollout, lack of public engagements and a lack of proper procedural and legal safeguards associated with the Unique Personal Number rollout would wreak havoc on the ways citizens access nationality documents," they said.

The groups argue that the introduction of the Maisha Number has overlooked essential steps needed for an identification system upgrade and reforms.

Furthermore, they express concerns that the government's current efforts to develop a digital ID system are heading towards the same pitfalls that stalled the predecessor, Huduma Namba.

The rights groups warn that failure to address the current loopholes could lead to discrimination, privacy erosion, and exclusion for communities historically challenged in accessing documentation, similar to the "flawed" implementation of Huduma Namba.

The rights groups called on the government to utilize the opportunity to initiate a cross-stakeholders powered process with a transition period to ensure a smooth rollout of digital ID.

They further appealed to the government to ensure all Kenyans have access to documentation including birth certificates and ID cards before moving forward with digitization through the expansion of the number of registration and identification offices and resourcing of these offices.

Additionally, they called for a robust Data Protection Impact Assessment and Human Rights Impact especially in underserved areas of Kenya.

The Civil Society organizations also want the whole process to be all-inclusive

"We also demand inclusion of civil society and members of the public, including minorities and marginalized communities in line with Article 56 of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, in any relevant working groups or committees, including the National Digital Identity Technical Committee and National Steering Committee for Digital Identity," they added.

They further called for the improvement of infrastructure such as electricity and internet nationwide, and any other needs identified by the Kenyan public before they go ahead with the implementation of the National Digital Identity system.

On September 12, Citizen Services Principal Secretary Julius Bitok confirmed that President William Ruto will launch a Sh1bn project to transition the country into a digital UPI-based national identity database on September 29.

He explained that the National Digital Identity has four components, UPI (Maisha Number), Maisha Card (a third generation ID card), Digital ID that could be linked to a mobile phone, and a National Master Population Register consisting all persons living in Kenya.

The Immigration PS said the technical committee is going to roll out activities towards implementation of national digital identity within the 90 days directed president.

Once assigned at birth, the Maisha Number will serve as a lifelong UPI, streamlining documentation processes throughout an individual's lifetime.

"It will be a Unique Personal Identifier across the lifetime of someone that is why we are calling it the Maisha Number. It is a lifetime number from birth to death, for all documents that will be the number that will be used," he said.

PS Bitok clarified that, unlike the Huduma Number, which required the collection of biometric data from the public, the Maisha Number will be generated using existing databases, including those from civil registration.

For those seeking ID replacements, the new cards will take the form of Maisha cards, with the government transitioning to third-generation cards moving forward.

September 30 cutoff

He said the government will cease issuance of second-generation cards after September 30 with new applicants acquiring Maisha Number.

"For those turning 18 we will start immediately issuing them the Maisha Number. For those who have lost their ID's, we are going to give them the new digital ID cards without necessarily starting afresh like Huduma Number," the PS explained.

Bitok emphasized that the Maisha Number will feature a Machine-Readable Zone compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards.

This enhancement, according to PS Bitok, distinguishes the Maisha Card from its predecessor, the Huduma Card.

"In the Huduma Card we didn't have the Machine-Readable zone. However, in Maisha Card, we are going to have that part captured and is a very important part according to ICAO standards and this a very different product all together," he said.

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