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The use of biometric technology in political processes, i.e. the use of peoples’ physical and behavioural characteristics to authenticate claimed identity, has swept across the African region, with other 75% of African countries adopting one form or other of biometric technology in their electoral processes. This has been necessitated in part due to the low trust majority of citizens have had with electoral management bodies and the assumptions that adopting such technologies will increase confidence and efficiency in the elections. This comes at a high cost to countries already struggling with expensive elections. Despite such costs, the adoption of biometrics has not restored the public’s trust in the electoral process, as illustrated by post-election violence and legal challenges to the results of the 2017 Kenyan elections. An unexplored implication of this techno-optimism of biometric technology in elections is the privacy aspect.

The Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology, a research centre at the Strathmore Law School is releasing the results of an ongoing investigation on the privacy implications of using biometric technology during the electoral process in Kenya. The project focuses on two main questions: what are the motivations for the adoption of biometric technology in Kenyan elections, and how is privacy and security of personal data in Kenya impacted by the adoption of biometrics in the electoral system? We conducted primary and secondary research from our location in Nairobi, Kenya before, during, and after the 2017 General Elections.

The key takeaway is that Kenya’s legal landscape lacks the protections needed to safeguard the privacy of its citizens and protect their data. Transparency, trust, and security are key when deploying biometrics technologies. When such technologies are adopted in the absence of a strong legal framework and strict safeguards, they pose significant threats to privacy and personal security, as their application can be broadened to facilitate discrimination, social sorting and mass surveillance. The varying accuracy of the technology can lead to misidentification, fraud and civic exclusion. As such, it is crucial that as Kenya reviews its election and referenda processes, the use of biometric technologies be understood from a privacy and security perspective.

Find the report here.