Kenya’s data protection agency filed a lawsuit with the High Court of Kenya, asking the court to force Worldcoin to safeguard and store the data it collected from Kenyan individuals until investigations are complete, according to local media reports.
The lawsuit comes amid revelations the Sam Altman-backed cryptocurrency project ignored an earlier order from the Kenya Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) to stop collecting unique personal data, months before it was suspended.
On Aug. 2, Kenya’s interior minister Kithure Kindik halted all activities of Worldcoin to allow the government time to investigate potential risks to public safety. At the time, over 350,000 Kenyans had reportedly signed-up to Worldcoin.
Scanning irises for ‘greater good’?
According to a report from BitcoinKE, the ODPC also wants Worldcoin to stop processing the data it collected. The suit is part of ongoing investigations by multiple agencies to look into the security, privacy, and legality of collecting biometric data in exchange for money, it said.
In an affidavit to the East African country’s High Court, ODPC deputy data commissioner of compliance Oscar Otieno said:
“The applicant is aware that despite the suspension and directive to cease processing of personal data, the respondents continued to process the said personal data.”
“It took the public directive by the cabinet ministry of interior and coordination to halt the operations of the respondents [Tools for Humanity and Sense Marketing],” Otieno declared. German-based Tools for Humanity is the software company behind Worldcoin.
Launched on July 24, Worldcoin promises people free money in exchange for a scan of their irises. It built a device called Orb, which it uses to scan eyeballs and capture unique biometric identifiers. The goal is to create a digital World ID that separates humans from AI.
The company set up sign-up sites in 34 countries where people can get their irises scanned. So far, Worldcoin has scanned the irises of over 2.24 million users worldwide. However, the project has run into problems in several countries, including the UK, France, and Germany.
Kenyan regulator ‘misguided’
In Kenya, Worldcoin has been rocked by allegations of fraud and privacy, Quartz reported earlier this month. New users were targeted by fraudsters offering to buy their Worldcoin tokens (WLD) for cash – but at a lower valuation than their actual worth.
Kenyans who got their irises scanned received around 25 WLD tokens valued at about $60 at the time. But because many new users had limited knowledge of how Worldcoin operates, they sold their crypto rewards to scammers for a song, as low as $7, the report said.
Eventually, Kenya’s interior minister Kithure Kindik suspended the operations of Worldcoin, worried the company was collecting biometric data without proper consent and explanation, putting people’s privacy at risk.
David Gitonga, crypto analyst and editor at online publication BitcoinKE, said while the ODPC “is able to stop the activities of Worldcoin”, its data safety lawsuit against the company may be premised on ignorance.
“I believe it [the lawsuit] is a bit misguided due to a lack of understanding on Worldcoin,” he told MetaNews.
Gitonga said the ODPC “raided” the local Worldcoin offices, accusing the company of using “financial incentives to collect data…and this is a crime.” He added that Kenyans were “very eager” to get the free Worldcoin money because they didn’t “have a choice.”
Worldcoin disregards authority
In May, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner demanded that Worldcoin stop its iris scans and collecting personal and unique information of people in Kenya. However, the company disregarded the order and continued to harvest the biometric data, TechCrunch reports.
In a letter to the lawyers representing Tools for Humanity, the OPDC said: “Your client is hereby instructed to cease the collection of all facial recognition data and iris scans, from your subscribers.”
“This cessation should be implemented without delay and should include all ongoing and future data processing activities.”
Worldcoin would only cease operations in August after interior minister Kindik’s intervention. The Worldcoin Foundation, the non-profit building Worldcoin, previously told Reuters that the project was “designed to protect individual privacy and has built a robust privacy program.”
The Foundation said it “complies with all laws and regulations governing the processing of personal data in the markets where Worldcoin is available.”
As of writing, Worldcoin’s WLD token is up 2.3% at $1.51, according to CoinGecko. The token lost nearly half of its value since its launch. To date, Worldcoin has issued 26.44 million WLD tokens valued at nearly $40 million.