The world is no longer what it used to be. The flow of information in decades gone by was slower, restricted, even shielded by several factors, unlike today where its collection, analysis, and dissemination can be near real-time.

Tuesday, 15 January 15, 2019, was another dark day for Kenya when terror reigned supreme at one of Nairobi’s most iconic business addresses, 14 Riverside Drive.

My mind goes into overdrive thinking about the permutations on causation and outcomes, given what we know publicly and also that which is steeped in ‘intelligence’ secrecy that eventually leaks out. Unfortunately, we are back at the table discussing surveillance, personal data, and privacy protections in the context of national security.

State of privacy in Kenya

The current state of technology as regards information collection and analysis is sufficiently advanced to give a very tangible daily living benefit to the citizens of Kenya and to inform an enriched national security data pipeline.

Do not be mistaken to think that our intelligence apparatus is ill-equipped. On the contrary, they are very well set up and collaborations with allies on intelligence matters have averted and continue to thwart innumerable risks. However, when speaking data, nothing beats quality, variety, and volume when it comes to refining the collective gut of an intelligence operation, allowing for even the most minute signals to register and inform a decision.

We have a lot of data, structured and unstructured sitting in silos across the country generated by individuals and businesses alike. Think in context of the millions in daily retail transactions, terabytes of closed-circuit television content, building access logs, property market information, mobile network data, internet service provider logs, financial services metadata, and smartphone data to cover but a few.

There are meaningful relationships between these datasets across people, places, things, and events that can be surfaced using artificial intelligence and applied towards matters of national or local neighborhood security.

‘Surveillance states’ like China and more diplomatically the United States are on the higher spectrum of implementation of various programs that are viewed as infringing on personal freedoms in the way that they operate.

Sitting in Nairobi, I wonder loudly; could we scratch our own itch, take the best that technology has to offer and with citizen contractors, tropicalize the tech in a way that is open, relatable and agreeable to the majority population’s sensibilities and peace of mind?


Cover image credit: Taken of and around the 2013 Westgate shopping mall terrorist incident in Nairobi, Kenya. Anne Knight/Wikimedia Commons

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