Worldcoin is NOT legally registered in Kenya – Government

Prof. Kithure Kindiki, CS Interior
Interior CS Prof. Kithure Kindiki,

CS for Interior Kithure Kindiki: Worldcoin is NOT registered as a legal entity in Kenya.

The Cabinet Secretaries of Interior and Ministry of ICT have finally issued a coherent statement on Worldcoin activities in the country.

This comes after the Hon. John Mukunji, MP, Manyatta sought a statement from Interior CS Prof Kithure Kindiki and Eliud Owalo, CS ICT on the Government’s official position following their differing statements on the subject before the suspension.

Issues raised by MP John Mukunji

The MP wanted the Cabinet Secretaries to shed more light on:

  • Steps the government is taking to ensure control of data access collection and storage by foreign entities.
  • Who licensed and authorized the biometric data collection by Worldcoin?
  • Safety guarantees the put in place by the Government to ensure that the data would be exclusively used for the intended purpose and Kenyan citizens would not incur any loss.
  • The ultimate objective of the exercise and purpose of the data collection.
  • The source of money used to pay participants and who stands to benefit from this exercise.
  • Precautionary steps taken by the government already mined.

Conflicting statements on Worldcoin

Earlier this week, the Interior CS suspended Worldcoin citing concerns over its operations in the country. ICT Cabinet Secretary, Eliud Owalo took a different position earlier on the matter. He stated that Worldcoin was operating within the legal framework as per the Data Protection Act of 2019. He further added that the company was getting the data voluntarily from Kenyans.

The National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi called for the intervention of the president to clarify on Worldcoin following the two conflicting statements from the two Cabinet Secretaries. “It is important that at every single moment, the country be made aware of the Government’s position,” Hon. Opiyo Wandayi said, “A government can not have two contradictory positions on a single issue and as serious as this one [Worldcoin]”

Ministry of Interior and Ministry of ICT joint statement in response

Part of the statement reads: “Worldcoin was reported to be harvesting iris data from Kenyans in exchange for cryptocurrency tokens worth approximately KES 7,000 on condition that the beneficiaries allowed the scanning of their iris.”

Interior CS Prof. Kithure Kindiki stated that Worldcoin is NOT registered as a legal entity in Kenya. Preliminary investigations revealed that the crypto firm has hired Sense Marketing, a local company to conduct the verification process and capture the required data on their behalf.

The Ministry of Interior and National Administration suspended Worldcoin in Kenya on August 2, raising concerns over the authenticity and legality of its activities in the country. The company has so far released a statement in response.

Consequently, criminal investigations have commenced to address the concerns raised by the ministry. In addition, the investigations seek to establish the safety and protection of the data being harvested and its intended use by the organization.

According to the joint statement released, the investigation will also cover any persons of interest who may be outside Kenya per the relevant international procedure and protocols on Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) and the extra-territorial jurisdiction. The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) is in charge of the ongoing investigations.

Two local Worldcoin representatives are being interrogated by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) since Wednesday (August 2, 2023). The two representatives are: Mr. Emmanuel Otieno described to be in charge of operatives and Ms. Rael Mwende described as the Country Manager.

“Among the foreign nationals associated with Worldcoin, are a Mr. Poitr Piwowarczyk who is on record to have entered Kenya on several occasions,” the statement adds. “As a precautionary measure, the Immigration authorities have been directed to ensure that no persons associated with Worldcoin leaves Kenya without the clearance of the DCI.”

Worldcoin “compliance” with regulators

According to the joint statement, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) learned that the company had set up booths across the country for its verification process on April 19, 2022. The ODPC later suspended Worldcoin’s operations in May 2022 for 60 days following its assessment. This was to “ascertain the lawful basis and safeguards adopted” by the company.

Subsequently, the Office raised its concerns again with the processing activities of Worldcoin following a spot check in May this year. The ODPC directed the company to immediately cease processing sensitive data; iris and facial data of data subjects. It further directed restriction on “processing of any data already processed and advise the Office of safeguards placed on the restricted data.”

The Office had issued a cautionary statement advising the public to be vigilant when “engaging with Worldcoin and, in particular, when providing personal data”.

The statement confirms that Worldcoin is indeed registered as a data controller by the ODPC. However, according to the released statement, “this is not a valid license for an organization to operate in Kenya or authorize the operations of a country.”

The government has denied knowledge of any prior public participation exercise by the company. In addition, it has commenced investigations to ensure that Worldcoin complies with the data collection, storage and sharing principles.

The Communications Authority and the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner issued a joint statement raising concerns over the operations of Worldcoin as they relate to cybersecurity, data protection and consumer operations.

Source of Funds

According to the statement, the source of funds used in this operation is unknown to the government. Particularly used as an incentive to participants after being verified.

A multi-agency team comprising security, financial services and data protection agencies has commenced inquiries and investigations into Worldcoin’s activities. Part of the team’s mandate is to investigate the source of these funds.

Government’s directives

The Government has directed the crypto firm to cease the collection of personal data and restrict further processing of any data already collected from Kenyan citizens. The ODPC did not lift the suspension of the processing of sensitive data. In particular, the Office raised concerns over whether the consent from individuals was voluntary or illusory.

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