Keren Weitzberg F'19

Keren  Weitzberg
Teaching Fellow
History
University College London

ACLS Fellowship Program 2019
Teaching Fellow
History
University College London
Marketized Identities: A History of ID Cards, Registration, and Biometrics 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. “Marketized Identities” 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? Supporters argue that biometrics will enable African countries to “leapfrog” to new stages of development. This project flips the script by showing that while digital biometrics is a novel technology, it is layered atop an older, analog history.