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Crime & Scandal

Huduma Number: CCTVs good idea but have some downside too

CCTV apparatus. Photo/Courtesy

If you thought Huduma Number is a tad too much invasion of your privacy, then you have not seen anything yet! 

Even as the basic safeguards are yet to be instituted and guaranteed, the government now has advanced plans to enact a legally binding CCTV Policy.

The draft closed circuit television policy, which the majority of Kenyans are still unaware of, makes it mandatory for cameras to be installed in all public spaces. These include hotels, hospitals, clubs, education institutions, places of worship, supermarkets and apartment blocks.

Accordingly, all public areas will be covered by CCTV cameras, whether in public or private property, and connected to a national monitoring station run by the government. The surveillance system will be under the close supervision of the major security agents.  

No doubt about it, CCTVs have come in handy, especially when detectives are investigating specific incidents, even if not necessarily of  criminal nature. 

The cameras have also acted as deterrents to criminals who would otherwise easily attack. Still, sometimes CCTVs have failed Kenyans due to lapse of surveillance by those in charge of the gadgets.

While CCTVs are generally acceptable, there is a hunch that Kenya is once again being used as a guinea pig for certain global interests. It is all about big data. The Oxford dictionary defines big data as ‘extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions’.

There are a few key issues that Kenyans must demand answers to, before they get entangled in a scheme they have no idea about. First, who is funding this massive investment in information and communication technology, at a time when we are still in the dark about the fate of the moribund Sh24.6 billion laptop project? 

Secondly, what legal and constitutional recourse does a citizen have in case of unnecessary violation of his or her right to privacy? Indeed, while other countries are excited about big data for artificial intelligence purposes, we seem to be bent on snooping. 

It is currently bad enough, with the leakage of intimate or confidential communication involving high-profile personalities. 

Thirdly, what is the surveillance best practice in countries that face existential threats  for instance, Israel? What has been the success rate of such a surveillance system in deterring or combating terrorism?  

Fourth, what kind of investment are we looking at, both in the short and long term? Is it even a priority, given the desperate needs in other sectors? This is Kenya, and we all know how the tendering process goes! There must be a twist in the tale.

With the extent of impunity and malice plaguing our society, there are those within the system who will be constantly browsing the servers in order to get incriminating dossiers on targeted individuals. Blackmail for political and financial gain could be a thriving industry.

Obviously, there is the danger of massive witch hunting. The risk of making a white elephant aside, it will be a sad day when Kenyans cannot enjoy their freedom of association due to the paranoia that may be caused by CCTV surveillance. But time will tell.

— The writer is a communication expert and public policy analyst— [email protected]

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