In last week’s column, titled the Panopticon we established that we are constantly being watched. This week we explore the various ways technology is being applied for surveillance in Kenya.


Kenya is slowly but surely getting into the fold of societies that are constantly under surveillance, The national government and county governments like Nairobi have rolled out programmes to monitor streets all round the clock in an effort to curb criminal activities. Shopping outlets and logistics companies are using radio frequency ID tags to help with their tracking. The traffic department is employing speed cameras to deter would be traffic offenders on our highways.


While the Kenyan government is inept in technology and does, little technological surveillance compared to developed countries like Britain. Foreign governments are actively gathering data on Kenyans. Kenya is the most watched Sub-Saharan country; in the continent, it is second only to Egypt. The programme, code named Prism enables NSA {National security agency} to collect email, videos, documents and other media. They do this through US companies including Google, Microsoft and apple. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed the scope of the NSA’s massive surveillance programme, which sweeps up internet traffic and phone records, in June 2013 leaks to the media. Before him, we had Julian Asange of Wiki leaks. It is however right to conclude that the US government watches us more than our Government.


INTERNET; it is a shame these days to lack an online version of you; some update second to second occurrences of their lives. My friend says if you did not see it in facebook then it never happened. The social media is awash with a gold mine of information on you just waiting to be put to proper use by anyone government or terrorist. What you read, who you talk to, what you say, what you Google it’s all there archived!


CCTV cameras; Kenya received a grant Sh8.5 Billion from China for installation of CCTV in major cities and towns to minimize terrorism attacks. CCTV cameras in stores monitor shoplifters, those in ATMs machines look out for fraud activities; those on public transport areas watch vandals and thugs. Nevertheless, they also watch ordinary people at the same time.

Digital CCTV systems can be configured to use face-recognition and look for criminal suspects.

Speed cameras; they are installed in highways to monitor traffic offences, analyze and send data to traffic personnel for action.  There are cameras that recognize the registration plates on vehicles and track individuals in them. These cameras are used to check vandalism and even track terrorists.


RFID tags; A massively growing area of surveillance technology is radio frequency ID tags. Shops and logistic firms say they will eventually be vital in stock control, with products communicating to shop shelves for replenishing when empty. Passive tags can be small; these passive tags need to be scanned by a radio-reading device to reveal their information. Active tags are much larger, often used to track items such as freight containers. These tags can monitor the movement of anything.


MOBILE; they could be used through triangulation to trace exactly where you are and from. Much data on you could also be sourced from your mobile phone company.


STORE card; major shopping outlets in Kenya have cards through which people earn points. This is stored in their electromagnetic bands, data on your shopping habits. Where you shop, what you buy and how much you spend.


CREDIT cards; Every time you buy something with a credit or debit card you let the firm know where you are and what you are buying. Information can be held on our spending patterns.


BEBA Pay cards; Google and Equity bank have collaborated to give Kenyans a new mode of paying for bus fare. The card enables passengers to simply step onto the bus, tap the Beba card on the conductor’s NFC-enabled Smart-phone, and instantly debit the fare. This gives an electronic trail of you for anyone willing to follow.


SATELLITES surveillance; The Kenyan government has none of this capacity but since the US actively uses it on us its folly to ignore it. Only a small cocoon within the US intelligence community really has an idea of the level of monitoring from the skies. However, considering the advances in technology witnessed even in the drone warfare it is easy to realize you have nowhere to hide if Uncle Sam is out to get you.


ELECTORAL register; everyone has the right to register as a voter and vote. The electronic methods including the BVR system will keep immense details on the voter. His fingerprints and voting patterns are just some.


PHONE-tapping; The government uses phone taps on people it targets, be it criminals or potential ones. Other governments also use phone taps on political opponents’ and all those who try dissent.


BUGS and hidden cameras; this can be installed anywhere from bedroom to board rooms and even on people. Governments use it even for espionage; companies use it to spy on each other and even individuals on one another.


CALL MONITORING; while some companies will warn you when they are about to monitor and record your phone call others will not. When you call Safaricom customer care they let, you know they are monitoring your call. The truth however is they have the capacity to monitor any call you make to or through their network. Call centre workers, whose conversations are recorded for “training or quality purposes”, face daily eavesdropping from managers keen to ensure they do not diverge from the script or indulge in too much personal chitchat during sales calls. Most organizations monitor the employees’ internet usage and call habits. Some even restrict websites and such other actions.


COOKIES; One of the most subtle forms of surveillance is the use of HTTP cookies – small packets of data that are used to communicate between websites and your computer. They are used to set your preferences when you visit a website for a subsequent time. They keep your entire online trail


Kenya is slowly but surely becoming a big brother paradise. Legal, monetary and logistical obstacles stand in the way of a massive mass surveillance; however, information on almost everything we do is constantly gathered and analyzed. Everything from shopping tags to mobile phones has the potential to be watching us.

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