The Kenyan government has launched investigatations into Worldcoin operations in the country following concerns over data privacy and security.
In a joint statement by Cabinet Secretary of Interior Kithure Kindiki and his ICT counterpart Eliud Owalo, the government confirmed that the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) is interrogating two Kenyan nationals associated with the entity, Emmanuel Otieno, and Rael Mwende.
Additionally, foreign national Piotr Tczyk, connected to World Coin, is also under investigation after his multiple entries into Kenya.
The CSs said the two Kenyans in custody are local marketing representatives of the international cryptocurrency company.
Otieno was in charge of the operations of the company while Mwende was identified as the overall country manager.
— Ministry of Interior | Kenya (@InteriorKE) August 3, 2023
"Preliminary investigations reveal that the entity has hired a company in Kenya called Sense Marketing to do the data capture for them in the country," the CSs said in a statement.
"...Both persons are being interrogated by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) since yesterday (Wednesday, August 2/ 2023). The foreign nationals associated with Worldcoin, are a Mr. Poitr 3 of 6 Tczyk who is on record to have entered Kenya on several occasions, the last one being in June 2023 (Arrival - 11th June, 2023; Departure 25th June, 2023)," they added.
The ongoing criminal investigations are aimed at verifying the authenticity and legality of World Coin's activities, as well as the safety and intended use of harvested data.
The CSs further disclosed that the government had directed immigration officers to restrict the departure of any individuals connected to World Coin, whether Kenyan or foreign nationals, without the clearance of the DCI.
"As a precautionary measure, the Immigration authorities have been directed to ensure that no persons whether Kenyan or foreign nationals associated with this entity leaves Kenya without the clearance of the Director of Criminal Investigations who is in charge of the ongoing investigations," the statement revealed.
Additionally, the investigations will extend to persons of interest who may be outside Kenya, as per relevant international protocols on Mutual Legal Assistance and extra-territorial jurisdiction.
"The investigations will also cover any persons of interest who may be outside the territory of Kenya in accordance with relevant international procedures and protocols on Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) and the exercise of extra-territorial jurisdiction," they added
The statement comes in response to a query from Manyatta MP John Mukunji, who raised concerns about data control, collection, and storage by foreign entities.
The government has pledged to provide assurances of public safety and financial transaction integrity, and thorough scrutiny will be undertaken to assess the legality of World Coin's activities and protect citizen data.
The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) had previously expressed concern about World Coin's data collection practices.
The company had set up booths across the country in April 2022, scanning the iris of interested Kenyans in anticipation of the launch of their cryptocurrency.
The ODPC conducted assessments and suspended World Coin's operations in May 2022 to ascertain the lawful basis and safeguards.
A spot check in May 2023 raised further concerns, leading the ODPC to direct the immediate cessation of processing sensitive personal data, including iris and facial data.
The Kenyan government clarified that World Coin was registered as a data controller, but such registration only confirms compliance with specific sections of the Data Protection Act, without endorsing overall compliance.
In light of the ongoing investigations, World Coin has been directed to cease data collection and restrict further processing of sensitive personal data.