CS Owalo implicates data commissioner in Worldcoin controversy

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Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) faced criticism for its oversight of Worldcoin‘s activities in the country, as revealed by ICT and Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary, Eliud Owalo during his testimony in Parliament.

CS Owalo expressed his concern that the data commissioner did not conduct proper due diligence when registering Worldcoin, a foreign company that commenced operations in Kenya in 2021.

He pointed out that the commissioner ignored significant warning signs regarding the company, even though they had recommended its suspension.

While addressing the National Assembly Ad-hoc Committee on Worldcoin, the CS distanced his ministry from the actions of the data commissioner, emphasizing its independent role.

He highlighted an ODPC directive from June 23, which called for Worldcoin to cease collecting sensitive personal data from Kenyans, and questioned why the same firm was later registered despite not addressing the ODPC’s concerns.

In addition to the collection of sensitive personal data, the ODPC had raised issues about consent for transferring personal data and the firm’s submitted impact assessment report. The ODPC also questioned the legal basis for Worldcoin’s operations in the country.

Despite these concerns, the ODPC registered Tools for Humanity (Germany) on September 15 of the previous year. Certificates of registration were also issued to Tools for Humanity USA on April 18, both valid for two years.

CS Owalo argued that the ODPC had overlooked clear concerns that should have halted the controversial activities, which are now the subject of inquiry by a parliamentary committee.

Owalo pointed out the contradiction in the ODPC’s actions, noting that despite directing Worldcoin to suspend its operations in Kenya in June 2022 due to noncompliance with the Data Protection Act (2019) and an unsatisfactory Data Protection Impact Assessment, the ODPC proceeded to register Worldcoin as a Data Controller in 2023, even with the cessation order still in effect.

During the committee session, the CS was questioned about his earlier statements regarding Worldcoin’s operations being voluntary and legal in Kenya.

In response, he clarified that while the firm was duly registered, the certificate of registration did not grant permission to disregard sectoral regulations.

He emphasized that registration did not exempt the company from adhering to operational regulations.

CS Owalo also disclosed that a working group on sectoral reforms had been established to review the policy, legal, and regulatory framework in its entirety, to recommend necessary reforms to address gaps and align with emerging realities.