After becoming the first country to shut down Worldcoin activities, Kenya has formed a parliamentary committee to investigate the controversial crypto project.
The ad-hoc 15-member bipartisan committee was formed this week and will be chaired by MP Gabriel Tongoyo. It draws its members from House committees on internal security, communication and innovation, and tourism.
The new committee has 42 days to probe the iris-scanning ‘crypto’ project, whose popularity skyrocketed in the past month. This investigation will include interrogating the company’s top officials in the country and the heads of government agencies in the security and ICT ministries.
As one local newspaper reports, the committee will also interrogate two Cabinet secretaries at the heart of the controversy, both of whom were scheduled to appear before parliament to answer for shortcomings in their respective departments.
Kithure Kindiki, who oversees interior security, gave the order to halt Worldcoin activities in the country, while his digital economy counterpart Eliud Owalo has sounded quite a few warnings about the project.
“In view of the foregoing, the two Cabinet secretaries that were scheduled to appear tomorrow before this House, will instead appear before the committee to provide information on the matter,” directed Moses Wetangula, the speaker of the National Assembly.
The two Cabinet secretaries have appeared before parliament to answer lawmakers’ questions about Worldcoin. Kindiki told parliament that he had halted the project over security concerns and directed financial and security regulators to probe the company.
Before the shutdown, Worldcoin had become wildly popular in the East African country, drawing in tens of thousands for iris scans. However, my interactions with dozens of people in the long queues revealed that most had no idea what the project was, nor did they seem to care about the data being collected.
All they knew was that they would receive 25 WLD tokens, which were worth just over KES 7,222 ($50). At a time when the Kenyan economy is turbulent following a hotly contested 2022 election and recent tax hikes, the promise of free money overrode any reservations they had.
Worldcoin ignored the initial order to halt iris scans
Kenya grabbed headlines when it ordered Worldcoin to halt its iris scans earlier this month. However, a letter from the top data authority in the country that’s recently become public shows that the company had been ordered to stop its scans three months earlier but ignored the order.
In a May letter to Worldcoin’s lawyers, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) claimed the scans were intrusive and violated data protection rights. Additionally, the agency accused the company of failing to obtain valid consent from its targets.
“Your client is hereby instructed to cease the collection of all facial recognition data and iris scans from your subscribers. This cessation should be implemented without delay and should include all ongoing and future data processing activities,” the letter said.
In a recent affidavit filed at the High Court, the ODPC alluded to the letter, stating, “The applicant (ODPC) is aware that despite the suspension and directive to cease processing of personal data, the respondents continued to process the said personal data.”
It took an order from the Ministry of Interior, a more powerful institution, for Worldcoin to finally shut down.
While the ODPC says it ordered the project to halt operations in May, a senior official at Worldcoin’s Kenyan operations I spoke to in June claimed the company had the agency’s green light. The official said at the time that the company constantly interacted with the data protection agency and hadn’t raised any alarm over the massive amounts of personally identifying data the project was collecting.
Watch: Chamapesa’s Michael Kimani helps Kenyans change their views on blockchain
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