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PS addresses fears of electronic chip implants in digital ID rollout

The government has linked the allegations that new-borns will be implanted with electronic chips in digital ID rollout to business rivalry among international technology firms.

PS Julius Bitok hands over copies of Digital ID FAQ booklet to Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops chairman Archbishop Martin Kivuva

Immigration and Citizen Services PS Prof Julius Bitok on Wednesday, November 29, told Catholic bishops that the outrageous claims were a smear campaign by firms unhappy with the government decision to prioritise homegrown IT solutions in the project.

Briefing the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops on the digital ID and its planned rollout, the PS said the government was wary of entrusting foreign firms with the design and implementation of the project due to concerns over data protection and integrity.

“The propaganda that we are inserting chips into babies was fuelled by them (vendors) as a result of the government’s refusal to take them up on this project,” PS Bitok stated.

He said although there has been competing pressure from leading global technology firms for partnerships on digital ID, the government prefers to improve on the existing digital foundation using local experts.

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He explained that the decision to go local was also borne out of a deliberate policy to promote local enterprises in general and techie firms in particular, a position that has apparently upset global digital technology giants.

“Some have wanted to take the Maisha Namba from the ground but we declined their proposal on the basis that this is Kenyan ID and process and we already have a foundational ID. Maisha Namba is just an upgrade,” he added.

The bishops had invited Prof Bitok and the technical team on digital ID to the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) headquarters in Waumini House in Nairobi to clarify the alleged implants on new-borns and other claims touching on the project.

Earlier in November, KCCB which brings together 26 bishops, had raised a red flag over the implants claims and other grey areas around the digital ID and urged the government to address and allay the concerns.

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The bishops who spoke in Nakuru when issuing the state of the nation statement had also called for more public participation and stakeholders’ involvement in the digital ID rollout.

During the meeting with PS Bitok, the bishops reiterated the calls for public engagements and offered to use their grassroots network to support the exercise.

"Knowledge is power and there is need to continuously share information with public to dispel the misinformation out in the public. It is imperative that continuity and diversity in communicating the right information to the public on the project is employed," said bishop Anthony Muheria, the Archbishop of Nyeri.

He appealed for more time and resources for public sensitisation to reach to as many people as possible.

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To boost public confidence in the safety and security of the digital ID system, Archbishop Muheria suggested that the government should invite a caucus of IT experts drawn from private and public sectors to stress-test the infrastructure.

KCCB chairman Martin Kivuva who is also the Archbishop of Mombasa dioceses urged the government to ensure the process was transparent and to make relevant information easily available.

Responding to the concerns, the PS said over 500 public participation and stakeholder forums have been undertaken so far with several others lined up across the country in the coming days.

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