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Gateway Or Barrier? The Contested Politics Of Humanitarian Biometrics

– Data Rights Africa

An in-depth look at the problem of double registration in Kenya, and what it reveals about the dangers of biometric ID systems

Weitzberg outlines the plight of thousands of Kenyans who registered as refugees with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in order to receive food aid or healthcare, and are now not recognized as citizens. This has left them unable to access vital services such as opening a bank account or entering formal employment.

“The problem of double registration in Kenya is yet another example of the dangers and risks of exclusion posed by centralized biometric systems, which have become increasingly ubiquitous in the humanitarian and development sectors in recent years. But it’s much more than just the latest case of techno-solutionism gone wrong.”

Weitzberg argues that the use of biometrics has recently been championed by identity advocates as a method of facilitating social and political inclusion. But over-identification means that access to participation in civil society is conditional on enrollment in an ID scheme - meaning the consequences of exclusion are even more dire.

However unintentionally, biometric data-sharing and data consolidation have barred some of Kenya’s most marginalized populations from accessing the benefits of citizenship, as though the refugee system were working in reverse

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