Kenyans are a scared lot when it comes to government projects that portend to personal tracking and the sensitive issue of user privacy, fueled by the very public citizen lash back in America and Europe following allegations of NSA snooping and project PRISM.
I have on a number of occasions opined that the issue of privacy is overrated and any times misunderstood and taken out of context. At a recent workshop organized by the ICT Authority to update on the progress of the public key infrastructure project, consumer concerns on privacy came to the fore at the mention of the push toward one digital and unique identifier.
PKI as simplified by Wikipedia is “a system for the creation, storage, and distribution of digital certificates which are used to verify that a particular public key belongs to a certain entity. The PKI creates digital certificates which map public keys to entities, securely stores these certificates in a central repository and revokes them if needed.”
With the process requiring an initial physical verification before issuance of a certificate and the validity being one year unless revoked by an issuing authority, PKI will make digital only government operations a reality and locally the Kenya Revenue Authority is currently in pilot. Banks and other financial institutions who hemorrhage capital in the billons every year – mostly from internal fraud and hidden from the public, stand to benefit from the differentiated identification methods within PKI
As we move onto digital platforms both online and on mobile, the need to uniquely identify entities becomes paramount. Trade makes the world go round and is driven by trust. Online marketplaces currently have in place measures to secure the transaction process between buyers and sellers via Secure Socket Layers – SSL which encrypts to varying degrees communication between transacting parties.
The greatest beneficiary to a speedy and well thought out deployment by African countries of PKI is Intra-Africa trade, which currently accounts for only 11% in merchandise exports. As governments grapple with geopolitics on matters regional integration, but move forward on infrastructure projects – road, rail and air, which form another part of the trade fulfillment cycle, PKI will go a long way in seeding the trust that is needed in market ecosystems as it goes beyond securing the transaction channels to verifying the identity of the transacting parties providing full confidence to either party – authentication, integrity and non-repudiation.
Players in the ICT space should apply themselves toward actively integrating PKI into their platforms even as government publics work with those in the COMESA and other African trade blocs to ratify the AU cyber security convention as a start.