Kenya Clears Worldcoin for Relaunch After Year-Long Probe, Paving Way for Iris-Scanning Comeback

In a significant turn of events, Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) has officially dropped its probe into Worldcoin, the controversial cryptocurrency and digital identity project co-founded by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. This decision, announced on June 14, 2024, potentially clears the path for Worldcoin to resume its operations in the East African nation after nearly a year-long suspension.

The DCI’s letter, addressed to Worldcoin’s legal representatives, stated that the Director of Public Prosecutions had “directed that the file be closed with no further police action.” This conclusion comes after an extensive investigation into allegations of unlawful collection and transfer of personal sensitive data by Worldcoin in Kenya during 2022 and 2023.

Worldcoin, which aims to provide a unique “proof of personhood” system through iris-scanning technology, faced significant regulatory hurdles in Kenya shortly after its global launch in July 2023. The Kenyan government suspended the project’s activities due to concerns over data privacy and the legality of its operations.

Thomas Scott, chief legal officer at Tools for Humanity, Worldcoin’s parent company, expressed gratitude for the fair investigation and optimism about the future. “We hope to resume World ID registration across the country soon,” Scott stated, emphasizing that this development marks “not an end but a beginning” for Worldcoin’s efforts in Kenya.

However, the path forward isn’t entirely clear. The DCI recommended several steps for Worldcoin to ensure compliance with local regulations, including:

  1. Proper business registration in Kenya
  2. Obtaining necessary licenses in coordination with the Data Protection Commission and the Communication Authority of Kenya
  3. Conducting thorough vetting and legal contracting of all third-party vendors within the country

These recommendations align with findings from a separate parliamentary committee investigation, which had earlier uncovered violations of Kenyan regulations concerning data protection, consumer protection, and cybercrime laws. The committee had even gone as far as recommending a complete shutdown of Worldcoin’s operations, citing concerns of potential espionage and threats to national security.

The closure of the criminal investigation does not necessarily override the parliamentary committee’s recommendations, and it remains to be seen how these conflicting viewpoints will be reconciled.

Worldcoin’s unique approach, which involves scanning users’ irises to create a World ID and differentiate humans from AI, has triggered privacy concerns globally. The project faced scrutiny in several other countries, including Spain, South Korea, Argentina, and Portugal. In May 2024, Hong Kong ordered Worldcoin to cease operations due to privacy violations.

Despite these challenges, Worldcoin has reported significant growth, with its World App boasting 10 million registered users and 5 million monthly active users as of April 2024.