In many countries, there are limited legal options for a government that wants to access private information stored on devices such as mobile phones. While many states can easily spy on their citizens or people of interest, the legal frameworks to allow for this might be limiting and, in most cases, some technologies may not allow this to happen without the consent of the users.

This is the case with platforms that have an end to end encryption such as WhatsApp.

This is the problem the Government of Kenya wants to solve. A proposed Bill to amend the Official Secrets Act of 1968 is on the way and will bring major changes to the process of accessing the information that the state thinks that it’s of interest.

In the Bill, Kenyans who own mobile phones or communication gadgets will be required to provide any information or data needed by the government in the interest of national security. This includes emails, SMS, WhatsApp messages, or any data that the government deems a threat to national security.

In the amendment, failure to provide such information as required by the government will lead to imprisonment for a period of up to one year or a fine of KShs 1 million, or both. The government argues that the Bill will help fight crimes such as terrorism and cybercrime.

Kenya's national security

This new proposed Bill in Kenya raises some privacy concerns.

The government will have a right to ask a person to disclose their personal information to the government if it β€˜feels’ that your communication could aid terrorism or cybercrime. This is a procedure that is prone to abuse.

But the real threat lies in the use of the term β€˜national security.’ This is a term that has previously been used to define anything that the government is not interested in. When people want to hold peaceful protests, national security is cited as a reason to deny them their right to protest. Political meetings in the past have been stopped under the pretext of national security.

When the government wants something from you, they could simply cite national security and you will have to give access to all your communication or face a fine of KShs 1 million.

This is something that Parliament should consider and ensure that if the Bill is amended, there are enough safeguards to prevent abuse.

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