Kenya government mulls TikTok ban to protect data

Thursday March 21 2024

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary of Interior and Administration of National Government Prof Kithure Kindiki speaking during a past press interview. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG


Kenya's government will limit the use of popular Chinese social media platform TikTok by government officials in order to protect sensitive data as well as the security of Kenyans, the Interior Ministry has said.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki told parliament that the National Security Council (NSC) is currently dealing with the threats posed by social media platforms including TikTok.

“We are currently dealing with this matter of TikTok as the NSC. As you know, the Interior Ministry coordinates cyber security programme on behalf of the country,” Prof Kindiki said.

“We as the National Police Service (NPS) and National Intelligence Service (NIS) are working with the Ministry of Defence and that of ICT to guard our cyber space from internal and external threats.”

Prof Kindiki told the National Assembly’s Public Petitions committee that the NSC is toying with the idea on whether or not to ban public officials from using TikTok to protect sensitive data.

Read: Petitioner seeks TikTok ban in Kenya


He said whereas there is no policy on the use of social media platforms such as TikTok by public officials, the NSC is handling the matter with a view of limiting its use.

Kuria East MP Marwa Gitayama, who chaired the meeting said the petition on the bank of TikTok raises serious cyber space concerns and demanded to know if there exists a government policy on the use of TikTok and other social media platforms by persons who hold critical government information.

Critical government information

“People holding critical government information are on TikTok. Is there a policy of government the use of social media platforms by government officials?” Mr Gitayama asked.

“China, where TikTok originated, has banned the use of TikTok. In the US, 34 out of 54 States have prohibited government officers from using the TikTok App on their phones. Are Kenyan government officials required not to have this App on their phones?’’

Prof Kindiki said the outcome of the NSC deliberations will inform the policy on whether or not to limit certain aspects of the TikTok for use by government officials and certain ages in Kenya.

“This matter is so complex, so consequential that it is not easy to look in one direction and decide whether to ban TikTok or not,” Prof Kindiki said.

“The petition raises very grave issues. The issues are at the heart of security and safety of our people.

Read: Ruto, TikTok CEO agree to moderate content in Kenya

TikTok is a platform that brings huge economic benefits. However, there are grave dangers. We are in active engagement with TikTok and soon we will be making certain decisions.”

He appeared before the committee to provide the government position regarding a petition seeking to ban TikTok from operating in the country.

Stakeholders' viewers

The committee is listening to stakeholders’ views on a petition filed by Bob Ndolo, the Executive Officer of Bridget Connect Consultancy who wants Parliament to sanction the closure of operations of TikTok on grounds that it is exposing young people to explicit sexual content.

Mr Ndolo argued that whereas the use of the application has gained popularity among the youth in the country, the content being shared on the platform is inappropriate thus promoting violence, explicit sexual content, hate speech, vulgar language, and offensive behaviours which is a serious threat to cultural and religious values.

“Honourable members, TikTok platform has been used by criminals to spread malicious propaganda, steal popular accounts through identity theft and impersonation, conduct fraud by duping Kenyans into fake forex trade and fake job recruitment and distribute sexual content and images through its live feature,” Prof Kindiki told MPs.

“These risks have caused distress among users, exposed minors to inappropriate content and promoted discord among citizens.”

Prof Kindiki said the government through the Data Protection Commissioner has contacted TikTok and raised concerns relating to its processing activities.

Read: Ruto: Facebook, Instagram to start paying Kenyan content creators

The government is seeking to ascertain the level of compliance of TikTok with the Data Protection Act, 2019 in order to understand what measures must be taken to ensure the privacy of individuals is respected in accordance with the laws.

“In this regard, this office has required TikTok to demonstrate compliance with the requirements of the Act and other relevant laws and provide details on the effectiveness of age verification and content filtering if any,” he said.

“This office has also required that TikTok implement additional Kenya specific supplemental terms in its privacy policy considering the provisions of the Act and upon demonstration of the compliance, register with the office of the Data Commissioner as a data controller and/or data processor.”

Prof Kindiki said if TikTok fails to respond to the Data Commissioner, “We will enforce the law through issuance of directives, orders and requirements.” 

He said the state did the same with the World Coin where it has continued to reject the US government push to allow World Coin back in Kenya to collect citizens' iris data.