Biometrics from the Margins:

A History of ID Cards and Biometric Registration in Kenya

From fingerprint to iris scans, biometrics—the application of statistical analysis to biological data—is increasingly part of people’s lives, especially in postcolonial countries such as Kenya. Though often portrayed as a frontier market for cutting-edge biometric technologies, Kenya has a long and fraught history with fingerprinting, which was used by British colonial authorities to monitor and discipline African laborers. Biometrics from the Margins asks: How have East Africans harnessed, transformed, and subverted biometric technologies since they were first introduced in the early twentieth century? Can an identification and registration technique long associated with colonial extraction be a means of accelerating political and financial inclusion for the world’s poor, as many proponents suggest? How are those at the physical and metaphorical margins of the nation (including migrants, nomadic populations, refugees, & border communities, who have historically struggled to access identity documents) navigating the new world of digital identity? Supporters argue that digital biometrics will enable African countries to “leapfrog” to new stages of development. This project flips the script by showing that digital biometrics, though a novel technology, is layered atop an older, analog history.

This project has been generously funded by a 2019 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellowship, a 2019-20 Fulbright US Scholar award, a 2018 BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grant, and a 2017 thematic research grant from the British Institute in Eastern Africa. I have also received a grant from Privacy International to work on interrelated research.

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Technology Pill

(Privacy International Podcast)

The Trouble with Identity in Kenya

12 June 2020

LISTEN HERE

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Women in Identity Webinar

Biometrics, Privacy Exclusion

12 June 2020

WATCH HERE

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 CODA STORY 

In Kenya, Thousands Left in Limbo Without ID Cards

13 April 2020

READ HERE

The New York Times

Kenya's New Digital IDs May Exclude Millions of Minorities

28 January 2020

READ HERE

The Journal of African History

Biometrics, Race Making, and White Exceptionalism

April 2020

READ HERE

 BBC WORLD SERVICE 

Kenya's Controversial Biometric Project

7 May 2019

LISTEN HERE

 

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 CODA STORY 

Kenya’s Controversial Biometric Project Is Shrouded in Secrecy

3 May 2019

READ HERE

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