NAIROBI, Kenya – The Kenyan government is rushing to set up systems to increase cybersecurity, but it may also be using the opportunity to increase surveillance as the country prepares for presidential elections next month, an international group promoting the right to privacy said Wednesday.
Kenya's National Intelligence Service has strategic and operational influence on the country's cybersecurity program and this is concerning "given how the NIS operates outside of legal frameworks to surveil individuals," Privacy International said in a new report.
The projects are the Network Early Warning System to help detect cyber threats and the National Intrusion Detection and Prevention System, meant for early detection on threats to government internet infrastructure.
"Particularly problematic, however, is the potential scale of monitoring that can be conducted, as well as the lack of transparency about what exactly will be visible and to whom," said the report of the National Intrusion Detection and Prevention system.
Cybercrime attacks are estimated to have cost Kenyan businesses $175 million in 2016, the report said, and government sites have not been immune.
Kenya's main opposition coalition, the National Super Alliance, said they suspect that President Uhuru Kenyatta's administration is setting up infrastructure for electoral fraud and to interfere with communication during the election period.
"We are going to make a formal complaint to government later this week," said Dennis Onyango, a spokesman for the alliance.
The opposition alliance's flag bearer, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, challenged Kenyatta's win in the 2013 elections, charging that internet communication was set up between Kenyatta's party, the electoral commission and a call center that allowed electoral fraud. The Supreme Court upheld Kenyatta's win. Odinga, Kenyatta's closest rival in the upcoming August 8 presidential election, will again be watching internet usage during the upcoming election.
Governments in neighboring Burundi, Uganda and Ethiopia have shut down internet access for social media during elections. Since 2015 about a dozen African countries have had wide-ranging internet shutdowns, often during elections. Rights defenders say the blackouts can facilitate serious abuses. The internet outages also can inflict serious damage on the economies of African countries that desperately seek growth, according to research by the Brookings Institution think tank.
In Uganda, amid the presidential election of Feb. 2016, authorities shut down access to Facebook and Twitter as anger swelled over delayed delivery of ballots in opposition strongholds. During the blackout, the police arrested the president's main challenger. Over $2 million was shed from the country's GDP in just five days of internet restrictions, the Brookings Institution said.