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The Gates Foundation Pushes For Digital ID Systems, Despite Criticism

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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an organization established by the tech titan and his former spouse, is pushing further into the realm of digital identification, this time choosing to further Kenya’s controversial digital ID initiative, “Maisha Namb.”

As explained by the foundation’s CEO, Mark Suzman, the foundation is expected to liaise with integral tech moguls and specialists to ensure the success of the project which mirrors the foundation’s broader commitment towards digital identity enhancement, even as it unveils support for similar initiatives worldwide.

Designed as a unique identifier, the Maisha Namba will be allocated to every Kenyan citizen, effectively becoming their official digital ID, associated with a specially designed Maisha Card.

As part of this agenda, months of preparation and a budget of approximately $6.8 million had been set aside for the launch of this biometric-supported digital ID mechanism.

Yet, the digital ID initiative suffers from more than just delay. There is an evident wave of skepticism, with regions like Garissa in eastern Kenya expressing concerns about inadequate infrastructure, unreliable network access, and privacy and civil liberties concerns posing major hindrances to this tech-facilitated idea.

Human rights organizations have raised the alarm too, on the grounds that the new system could erode privacy and promote discrimination.

Despite these concerns, government officials have made attempts to assure its citizens of their commitment to privacy protection and the inclusivity promised by the Maisha Namba.

They stress that the new system is aimed at addressing a host of issues such as the authentication of citizens, protection of primary identification documents, improved governance of social programs and operations, and simplification of access to services such as healthcare, education, taxation, and social security.

Interestingly, the plan envisages every newborn being assigned a Maisha Namba, which stays with them throughout their life.

It’s not only the Gates Foundation that is getting involved in this. The launch of Kenya’s digital identity program is currently being bolstered by the United Nations Development Program. Yet, as the government faces the daunting task of convincing its citizens, concerns over privacy and overreaching surveillance continue to loom.

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