Ignoring Protests, Kenya Parliament Approves Dangerous National Security Law

The parliament in Kenya approved a dangerous new national security law yesterday. The vote was first interrupted by protests outside the venue, and the debate became so contentious that parliament had to be stalled for 30 minutes after elected representatives tore up drafts of the bill and engaged in a physical fight. Rights groups including Article 19, Kenya National Human Rights Commission, and Commission on Implementation of the Constitution plan to appeal the new law at the High Court, a court of first instance which can rule whether the new law conflicts with the Constitution.

As Access explained in our earlier call for parliament to reject the legislation, the law not only affects privacy rights, it can harm freedom of expression:

The 90-page Security Bill would amend a number of Kenyan laws. One of the most noteworthy provisions is Article 66 on Covert Operations, which would permit extrajudicial surveillance. If enacted, the Director-General of the National Intelligence Service could order a “covert operation,” without court approval or review to enter any place, or to search or seize any record or communication. In fact, the bill would grant broad authority to “do anything considered necessary to preserve national security.”

This national security provision would be nearly limitless and flies in the face of international human rights law. Each act under the covert operation provision would remain valid for 180 days unless extended by the Director-General. There are no provisions for public accountability or oversight, the language would replace the existing section of the National Intelligence Service Act, which currently requires government agents to get a warrant from a judge of Kenya’s High Court when there is reasonable grounds to investigate terrorism.

This is a setback for the largest economy in East Africa, which is increasingly becoming a major technology hub. We will closely follow the debate in the coming weeks.