Data is today’s black gold; is information in Huduma cards safe?

Tuesday November 24 2020
Huduma card.

Catherine Wanjiku displays her Huduma card after receiving it from Interior CS Fred Matiang'i at Kiambu County Commissioner's offices on November 18, 2020. Collapsing all government services into one card is a great idea. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG


Kenyans and foreign residents who registered for the Huduma number will soon start receiving text messages informing them where and when to pick their cards.

Issuance of the cards begins on December 1 and will continue for 12 months.

The Huduma card has features to respond to security challenges that have dogged the first and second generation ID cards such as forgery and fraud. It will also allow for the creation of a digital data bank of all citizens, refugees and foreigners living in the country.

After the 12 months, it will be mandatory for Kenyans to produce the card to access government services like driving licences, register a mobile phone number, vote, pay taxes, open a bank account, register a company or get a marriage certificate.

I have always been an advocate for digitising because it speeds up processes but also allows for convenient storage of data. The heaps of documents gathering dust in government offices baffles me. For anyone who loves to be tidy, clutter can spoil your day.

Every election year, we witness a large number of people selling their identity cards. The problems that we have had with national IDs have still not been quite solved, even as we move into digitising systems. Marginalised communities still do not have access to ID’s and these communities don’t have access to government services.


There are historical prejudices that we have as a country when it comes to identity as some ethnic groups are interrogated much more than usual to be recognised as Kenyans.

If issuance of the cards is to be inclusive to ensure all people access government services, as our constitution envisions, then marginalised communities have to be shown a reason to want the document.

What will be interesting to see is how the cards will be different for those who are temporary residents. It always felt demeaning when I had my Social Security Card in the US. It had instructions that only allowed me to work on campus as a student and the number of hours I was allowed, but you had to look at it keenly.

Collapsing all government services into one card is a great idea, it is convenient and not done in many countries, but what makes me worry is identity theft.

Theft of data is likely to happen because if computer that contains important information about individuals, be sure that there are people searching for ways to hack into systems to get that information.

Data is the gold rush of our times, most social media sites thrive on data collection to sell to marketing companies. The Data Commissioner has been sworn in to implement the Data Protection Act —but how safe are we?

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa, executive director, Siasa Place @Nerima