Digital Identity: The Appropriate Use Of Digital Identity

Period: 2019-2020


About the project

CIPIT will undertake research on when private and public sector service providers should ask individuals to produce an identity document.

Read more about this project here.

Report on Kenya’s Identification Ecosystem

The report on Kenya’s Identity Ecosystem provides an overview of the main identification systems used to manage development, and an in-depth exploration of three that are vital to Kenyans’ participation in political and economic life. The report was researched and written by Emrys Schoemaker (Caribou Digital), Tom Kirk (London School of Economics) and Isaac Rutenberg (CIPIT).

The research for the report was funded by Australia’s Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade as part of their support to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to strengthen access to digital ID for women and girls.

The full report is available here, and an interactive ecosystem map is here.

Determining true risks and their impact to the user experience of Digital ID

Increasingly, with the introduction of DID programs in a number of African countries, citizens and residents have taken to social media to elaborate on some of their experiences of ID and interacting with ID systems. Albeit limited in scope and magnitude, these online reports of lived experiences provide a useful tool for assessing the impact of DID and identifying likely harms to which users may be exposed. Analysing social media narratives from 11 African countries, this report identifies, in descending order of gravity, three major categories of harms affecting users, as well as instances when the harms are most likely to manifest. These categorisations are proposed as a tool to assess the feasibility and proportionality of DID programs. Category One Harms are primarily associated with an inability to access foundational forms of ID. Category Two Harms on the other hand relate to users having the ID; its impact on constitutional rights, namely, the right to equality, privacy, and other human rights such as healthcare. The last category, Category Three Harms, deals with the harms occasioned by logistical/operational shortcomings such as clerical errors, long lines, etc. This report is guided by two main frameworks discussed below, the Principles for Evaluation set out by the Centre for Internet & Society (CIS) and the Omidyar Network’s Good ID principles.

Below are our full analysis of three use cases for Digital ID.

Use Case : National Healthcare
Use Case : Driving Licences
Use Case : Tax Records

The reports below are our analysis of Digital ID in the context of a global pandemic.

Kipande, Kitambulisho, Huduma Namba: The Violent Ontologies and Epistemologies of National Identity Systems in Kenya. 

In 2019, the Government of Kenya through the Ministry of the Interior announced a new initiative called the Huduma Namba; a centralised, ‘single source of truth’ database that would determine the extent to which citizens would be able to access key government services.

However, the Huduma Number is the latest incarnation of the idea that a centralised register of persons is necessary to effective governance. It is designed to take precedence over the existing ID (kitambulisho) system, which has its origins in the pre-independence registration of African males in Kenya. But despite its stated confidence in its own system, the government launched the Huduma Number under a cloud of threats and coercion. Citizens were given 30 days to register for the new system and informed that failure to register would deprive them of access to banking, passports, mobile money, and even while, for instance, provision was not made for those in the diaspora. Eventually, this move raised suspicion as to the legality of this mandatory enrolment.

This paper will retraces the politics and history such centralised databases in Kenya beginning with the introduction of the kipande in colonial Kenya in 1921, through to the creation of the kitambulisho system at independence, including enrolment of women in 1978 and the modern digital database, through to the Huduma Namba itself. This critical genealogy will emphasise the reasons why the various systems were created, the ways they were expected to operate, and the political challenges they raised, as well as the extent to which these challenges were addressed. In this way, the paper argues that the fundamental flaws in Kenya’s identity systems are political and not technological and that the introduction of a digital database without addressing the political context may compound more problems than it solves.

This paper is currently under peer review.