Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Case For A Digital National ID For Kenya

Is it possible for the Government to connect a driver’s license, NSSF and NHIF cards, tax PIN, national ID (or passport), photo, fingerprints and mobile number to one identity, based on a single card?

Yes, it is possible. Malaysia has done it.

Through myKad, the Asian country became the first one in the world to collapse an individual’s holistic profile (passport photo, biometric and government-issued credentials) to one smartImage card. The cards are of four types:

  1. MyKid – for Malaysian citizens under the age of 12 including new-borns (non-compulsory);
  2. MyPR – for Malaysian Permanent Residents;
  3. MyTentera – for Malaysian Armed Forces personnel; and
  4. MyPolis – for Royal Malaysian Police personnel.

The MyKad project was intended to have four functions:

  • Identity card, incorporating data on fingerprints, postal address, location address, photo and conventional passport number, if any;
  • Driver’s licence;
  • Travel document in Malaysia and several neighbouring countries. However, a conventional passport is still required for international travel. The card is also aimed at reducing congestion at the border by enabling the use of unmanned gates using biometric (fingerprint) identification.
  • Storage of health information (e.g. blood group – which is key to establish quickly in the event of, say car accidents, insurance memberships, etc.).

Four further applications were added during its initial release:

  • e-cash, an ‘electronic wallet’ system intended for low value but high volume transactions (maximum limit was pegged at US$ 500). The government can make payments (e.g. cash bail) to citizens electronically via the card.
  • Touch ‘n Go – Malaysia’s toll road tolling system and also public transport payment system.
  • Digital certificate, commonly known as Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).

By law, MyKad must be carried at all times. Failure to do so may incur a fine or jail term of up to three years. Moreover, unlike in Kenya, security guards and other unauthorised persons are not allowed to retain the MyKads of other people. Only those authorised by the National Registration Department, like the police and immigration officers, can do so.

myKad Lessons for Kenya:

  • Since mobile phone numbers are supposed to be registered, these, too, can be incorporated into a modern digital national ID Imagethat also serves as one’s NSSF, NHIF, driver’s license, and biometric card. It can also be used as a voter’s card during national polls.
  • Adoption of such a card will help sanitise national citizen’s registration information already with Government. A massive but simple – technologically speaking – project of amalgamating all silos of Government and quasi-government (e.g. NSSF) held data should be undertaken for the card to be practicable.
  • Police on patrol can be equipped with small portable card readers with which they can access a person’s information. Traffic police officers would use such gadgets to access the individual’s driving license. Using these gadgets, the police can also read a card, print court summons, or issue receipts for cash bail offered.Instead of having separate numbers for tax PIN, NSSF and driver’s license, the use of one (national ID) number should be able to bare all. Of course, there would be massive cost savings in the long term made from adopting one smartcard as opposed to multiple cards issued by various agencies. There can also be a similarly smart card for aliens (refugees).
  • In the back office, the registration and law enforcement authorities would have a 3600 view of its citizens’ profiles using software and dashboards. This means that access to details of one’s card bares complete information about the person, including details of mobile phone numbers used before, “connections” to kinsmen, countries visited, etc.
  • In later phases, the cards can also be linked to issued payment cards, debit and credit, and from these, government can using court orders obtain access to details of transactions, malls or ATMs visited, etc. The issuance of these cards must be done using stringent physical and logical security processes to ensure that illicit cards cannot be issued under any circumstances.
  • Government offices, hospitals and even hotels should be equipped with inexpensive, PCI-DSS certified terminals (PoS) or ETR machines for purposes of any government transactions, monetary-based or otherwise, with this card.With proper policies and applications in place, the card can be extremely useful in netting tax evaders.

Government Oversight In Media Is In the Public’s Interest

Recently, I got amused when a news anchor of a leading TV station in Kenya asked the Cabinet Secretary for Arts and Culture whether the government was intent on letting the various sports associations in the country regulate themselves.             

Isn’t it for purposes of holding in trust the interests of citizenry, I wondered to myself, that we establish governments to exercise supervision of various public institutions, or of entities that have a profound impact on the wider society?

As citizens, we must learn to appreciate the noble role of government in ensuring that the public’s interests are well served, and well protected.

Ironically, the media is one such institution from whose activities we cannot disassociate government oversight.

Lately, the Kenya government has come under heavy criticism for their attempt to gain greater supervision of the media through the Kenya Communication and Information (Amendment) Bill.

According to observers and media analysts, the government move stifles democracy and stands in the way of not only media freedom, but also citizenry’s right to information. Beneath these rantings by NGOs, media owners and eminent journalists about the Bill, there is a clamour to maintain status quo and have the industry regulate itself.

But, can it really?

Among the published functions of the Kenya Media Council as mandated by the Media Act (Cap. 411B) is to “promote ethical standards among journalists and in the media”.

Well, I believe that on the afore-stated mandate, the Council has over the years performed dismally.

For example, as the Media Council looks the other way, our typically impressionable kids set out to school in PSVs in which radio shows expose them to odious, often sexually lurid content courtesy of certain media companies. As a parent, I cannot reconcile myself to the notion that the hosts of the said shows ascribe to freedom of the press these depraved radio themes.

The establishment of a free press in Norway, which is among countries that were declared to have the most free press in 2011-2012, was written into their Constitution in the `19th century under Article 100. Punishment for any writing is strictly prohibited in the Article, except where the writing leads to law-breaking activity, “contempt of religion or morality or constitutional power”.

There is healthy regulation of journalism in this Scandinavian country, and the media practice is honourable.

Contrariwise, sections of the Kenyan media are promoting practices that are disruptive to the proper preparation and development of a responsible and socially mature generation of young Kenyans. And I am utterly disappointed that the Media Council appears either unwilling or unable to rein in these sections of the rogue media whose acts are increasingly dishonourable to the profession.

Yes, our kids are being ‘spoilt’ by the media.

Slowly but surely, we have condoned the decay of the delicate social fabric that is the foundation of every society’s future – the young generation. Our media has been guilty of poisoning efforts to bring up our kids as mature, successful and responsible adults.

I mean, explicitly vulgar music lyrics and glorification of violence are all hallmarks of what is branded ‘adults only’ in public movie theatres. However, as far as Kenya’s broadcast and other media is concerned, these are prime time shows on TV and radio.

Little wonder that kids nowadays are far more rebellious and prone to dangerous, irresponsible sex, in some cases at ages just shy of puberty.

I hold that the consumers of media should be protected from media excesses by an institution or framework that is all inclusive but truly independent. And the proposed Amendment Bill, in spite of paranoid views from media practitioners and NGOs, offers just that.

Whenever government moves in with intent to protect certain noble interests, those threatened by such moves have a tendency of pointing out shadows behind every bush. What I find intriguing is that the Fourth Estate is wont to highlight parts of the proposed draft Bill that it considers disenchanting to them and, in calling for the Bill’s total withdrawal, stays mum about its positive aspects.

I stand for press freedom that tempers freedom with excesses that are likely to bring about social cataclysm. Just as movies are regulated and branded ‘unsuitable for under 16’ or ‘PG’ and so on, so should we regulate what our media projects to the public.

The Broadcast Standards Committee under the envisaged Bill is part of the oversight that will put a check on any disruptive benefits of free media. The existence of a set of prescriptive standards of broadcast and media in which the citizens have actual say through a government agency is a welcome move.

It is neither enough, nor sometimes fair, to justify certain extreme media actions by advising offended persons to seek redress in court. Often, the damage will have been inflicted way before the offended party files a case in court.

Moreover, free press has, granted, been hailed as a liberator, and one that precipitated free democracies in many countries. But when it comes to national security matters, the media is a double edged sword.

Although state security matters are deliberately cloaked under a veil of secrecy, many security experts will tell you that the Fourth Estate is prone to manipulation by forces – particularly external – that harbour threats to a country’s well-being. This is all the more reason why there is strong need for a framework that, while providing an enabling, free press atmosphere, allows for pre-defined “national security” oversight by a government agency.

Government should be able to create an atmosphere supportive of free press but at the same time, be protectionist of the havoc that comes with freedom.

Otherwise if the media is granted immoderate freedom, who will protect us from its excesses?