Digital ID Systems

Go back to the drawing board: Kenya must scrap unconstitutional Huduma Bill 2021

Civil society organizations are making their voices heard in Kenyan parliament, and the message is clear: the unconstitutional Huduma Bill 2021 must be scrapped.

Currently sitting before parliament, the noxius draft bill that will transition the nation over to a new catch-all digital identity system stands to facilitate the violation of constitutionally guaranteed human rights including the rights to privacy, freedom from discrimination, freedom and security of the person, as well as socio-economic and citizenship rights. 

Huduma, which requires primary identification documents for registration, stands to potentially exclude people already affected by the shortfalls of the existing identification program — including border communities who are subjected to tough vetting processes to attain identification, and people at risk of statelessness. 

“The Kenyan parliament continuing  to push the harmful Huduma bill through the legislative process is not only a waste of public resources, it’s telling the people of Kenya that their constitutional rights are nothing but words on paper,” said Elias Okwara, Africa Policy Manager at Access Now. “The government must withdraw this bill, and go back to the drawing board.”

On February 18 and 19, Kenyan civil society organizations joined the Department of Immigration, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the Office of the Data Commissioner, and other government agencies in a consultative meeting hosted by the National Assembly Departmental Committee on Administration and National Security. In immediate response, the civil society representatives delivered a  petition on February 21, urging legislators to withdraw the bill in its current form.

“Legislation does not exist in a vacuum. It is up to lawmakers to ensure that the laws they develop are in line with the constitution, the supreme law of the land,” said Bridget Andere, Africa Policy Associate at Access Now. “The Huduma Bill 2021 risks exacerbating an already existing problem. It will not fix the issue of exclusion.”

The Huduma Bill 2021 and the court-condemned National Integrated Identity Management System rollout are part of the nation’s attempt to streamline its digital identity systems, and improve accessibility and inclusion. While the effort to reform this system is to be applauded, the approaches  are compounding the historic issues, not addressing them. Passing this bill would simply be carrying over the failings of one system into another, while introducing new risks to the people subject to it.

The National Assembly is holding a public hearing for the bill today, February 23. Access Now once again urges lawmakers to immediately withdraw it, and carefully consider and address the submissions that have been made and will be made  to ensure any iteration puts people’s rights first.