Online privacy advocates have expressed concern over the hiring of Cambridge Analytica — the data firm that claimed to spur the electoral successes of both President Donald Trump and the “Brexit” campaign — by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s party to help him in his bid for reelection in August 2017.
Kenyatta was elected in March 2013 after garnering 50.51 percent of the vote. However, two groups — the Africa Centre for Open Governance and the Coalition For Reform and Democracy — filed petitions with the country’s Supreme Court contesting the election. The high court dismissed the challenges that same month, but many opposition supporters still believe the election was rigged. In 2007, another contested presidential election led to widespread bloodshed and displacement.
The country saw violence during the 2017 primaries, with support and opposition for political parties breaking down along ethnic lines…
Grace Mutung’u, a fellow with Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, said that an analysis she conducted with a colleague supported PI’s concerns. Mutung’u, who is Kenyan, told us:
Our main concern is that unlike in other cases where media manipulators have to harvest data from digital footprints, the government of Kenya is custodian to a lot of data that can be used to their advantage.
Specifically, she said that the government already has access to voters’ information through the use of national Identity cards and mandatory cell phone registration (which requires proof of both identity and residence), ensuring that “in our case, the government owns the data; it does not need to mine it.”
Mutung’u also pointed to a voter registration drive that Kenyatta’s coalition party conducted in January 2017, which focused on party “strongholds.” More than 238,000 voters were registered during the exercise. That same month, Interior Secretary Joseph Nkaissery said officials who were “undermining” Kenyatta’s administration would be removed.
Both she and Privacy International also shared concerns over the lack of a data protection law in Kenya even as Kenyatta’s administration has expanded its ability to collect data. To reassure voters concerning their privacy, Mutung’u said:
[The] current administration can come out and be transparent about what it is using our data for, how secure that data is, etc. They can assure the public that they will pass the data protection bill but even at present, they should assure us that they are protecting our privacy as it is a constitutional right.