There is outrage across Kenya after the country’s Revenue Authority announced on May 11 that it planned to start data extraction from digital devices in order to fight against tax and financial fraud.
In a software vendor tender notice, the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) calls for an app that should be able to scan across silos of data in emails, desktops, computers laptops, tablets, hard drives, micro-SIM ID cloning cards, smartphones of all operating systems and even on social media accounts. The software is to be purchased at a cost of $280,000.
The move, in one of the few countries in Africa to have data protection laws, was met with anger and dismay by Kenyans.
Data Privacy Breach
The recent decision is an escalation on an announcement made by the Inland Revenue in November last year that it will start monitor social media posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and WhatsApp in a bid to stop Kenyans posting their lavish lifestyles, cars and assets online without paying tax for them.
Google and Safaricom won’t just let KRA access emails, texts and calls without consent.
Since the start of the covid-19 pandemic, many Kenyans have turned to social commerce platforms such as Facebook Marketplace, WhatsApp for Business, Instagram and Twitter to sell their products.
Experts consider this decision illegal, unconstitutional and intrusive.
“There is no legislation allowing the KRA to review people’s posts. He is using internal politics to infringe on the privacy of Kenyans. The problem with blind communication is that you are collecting sensitive data that is not even relevant to KRA’s core mandate,” Mubambi Laibuta, a data protection lawyer and lecturer, told Quartz.
He adds that for the National Intelligence Service to carry out any type of information surveillance, it needs an authorization from the Inspector General of Police and a court warrant.
Nairobi-based lawyer and governance expert Janet Norman told Quartz: “They have no right to access private data without the user’s consent. And even some platforms like WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted, unless they want to engage Meta. Google and Safaricom won’t just let KRA access emails, texts and calls without consent. »
Corruption in the KRA is a major source of anger for many Kenyans
With high unemployment rates and businesses still reeling from the economic effects of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, KRA’s decision could not have come at a more inopportune time. This coupled with a 2018 scandal which saw KRA accused of theft millions of dollars in taxes in just a few months, adds to the frustration felt by many at the decision to widen the tax net.
“If it wants to widen its tax net, the government needs to create a conducive business environment where jobs are easy to create. Many Kenyans are unemployed and this is reducing their tax base,” says Roselyn Kiilu, a Nairobi-based beautician, adding that most Kenyans only use social media for emotional relief as inflation keeps driving up the prices of goods and services.
It remains to be seen how the KRA will implement its plan over the next few months with elections coming just a few months away and the irony of the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner educating Kenyans on their rights to private and personal data, and even giving them the freedom to report data breaches through an online portal.
“We are putting in place a framework for resolving data breach complaints and another for conducting periodic system audits to ensure compliance,” said Kenya‘s data commissioner, Immaculate Kassé. told the Daily Nation newspaper last year commenting on a survey which showed that 64% of Kenyan businesses are unaware of the data privacy laws governing their business operations.
According to Timothy Oriedo, managing director of Predictive Analytics, a data science start-up in Nairobi, social media data belongs to platform owners and KRA risks lawsuits from users if they access it illegally.
“With the current global and local governance and data protection mechanisms in place, this is not possible unless the taxman wants to own the messaging platforms to gain exclusive access,” Oriendo told Quartz. .