When the registration of Kenyans through eyeball scans by Worldcoin, with free tokens to boot, caught on a few weeks ago, the government responded by freezing the exercise and launching investigations.
Concerns were expressed around the safety of the personal data already shared with Worldcoin, a cryptocurrency platform. The exercise seems to have begun without explicit approval from concerned government agencies. Unfortunately, the horse had already bolted.
It seems word on the registration was spreading fast as excited Kenyans turned up in droves at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) as early as 5.00 am on some days, drawing the attention of the Ministry of Interior and National Coordination, which suspended the exercise.
Worldcoin apparently moved to KICC after overwhelming crowds turned up in smaller locations to register when the process started.
While suspending the exercise, the Interior and National Coordination Ministry said security, financial service and data protection agencies had commenced investigations to establish the legality of the activities, the safety and protection of the data harvested, and the intended use of the harvested data.
The registration exercise seems to have also happened at a lower scale in some European capitals, while in the USA (the home of Worldcoin) there was no activity due to the stringent requirements.
Worldcoin, founded by US tech entrepreneur Sam Altman, offers free crypto tokens to people who agree to have their eyeballs scanned.
The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in Kenya warned Kenyan citizens against sharing personal data with private companies.
The Capital Markets Authority said Worldcoin was not regulated in Kenya and participation in the products was risky.
The concerns also caught the eye of the National Assembly, which is seeking answers from the Cabinet Secretaries in charge of ICT & Interior and National Coordination in an ongoing enquiry.
Although Kenya could be lauded for the swift response, the Worldcoin registration brought the safety and security of personal data under sharp focus in this era of investments in the digital age facilitated mainly via technological platforms.
Many jurisdictions have adopted regulatory mechanisms to ensure personal data is secured with the fast-evolving technology and the emerging digital assets class with a market capitalisation of over $2 trillion for crypto assets alone.
These trends cannot be ignored as innovative technologies are expected to define the character of investment assets in the future.
In view of the current fragmented approach, which is largely jurisdictional or based on economic blocs, there is a need for a coordinated regulatory approach on safety of personal data with minimum standards set at a global level with clear benchmarks.
The drive could be led by global standard-setting bodies to ensure the personal data frameworks are harmonised and fit for purpose.
The writer is the CEO, of Scopes Markets Kenya.
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