Kenya on Wednesday suspended a project that aims to create a new global digital currency based on eye scans, citing concerns over the collection and use of personal data.
The project, called Worldcoin, claims to offer a universal basic income and financial inclusion to people who register their eyes using a spherical device called an Orb. The project has been operating in several countries, including Kenya, where it has reportedly registered over 350,000 people.
But the Kenyan government said it was alarmed by the activities and its potential implications for security, privacy, and legality.
In a statement, Interior CS Kithure Kindiki said the government had launched investigations into the project and its data harvesting methods.
He said the government needed to ensure the “authenticity and legality” of the project, as well as the “safety and protection” of the data being collected and how it would be used.
“It will be critical that assurances of public safety and the integrity of the financial transactions involving such a large number of citizens be satisfactorily provided upfront,” Kindiki said.
He said the government had decided to suspend all activities of Worldcoin and any other entity that may be engaging in similar practices until further notice.
“Accordingly, the government has suspended forthwith activities of Worldcoin and any other entity that may be similarly engaging the people of Kenya until relevant public agencies certify the absence of any risks to the general public whatsoever,” he said.
He also warned that anyone involved in promoting or facilitating the project would face legal action.
“Appropriate action will be taken on any natural or juristic person who furthers, aids, abets or otherwise engages in or is connected with the activities afore described,” he said.
The suspension of Worldcoin comes amid growing concerns over the use and misuse of personal data in Kenya and around the world.
In 2019, Kenya enacted a data protection law that regulates the collection, processing, storage, use and disclosure of personal data. The law also establishes an independent data protection authority to oversee and enforce compliance.
However, some experts have argued that the law is not enough to protect Kenyans from data breaches, exploitation and surveillance. They have called for more awareness and education on data rights and responsibilities among citizens and stakeholders. They have also urged for more transparency and accountability from data collectors and processors, especially those who operate across borders or use new technologies such as biometrics.