11 Nov 2020

Cybercrime / Who’s watching who? Biometric surveillance in Kenya and South Africa

African countries with weak regulation could become testing grounds for emerging biometric technologies.

Biometric data is used to help confirm identity, and in time may be able to predict an individual’s actions. It is crucial that this data is protected against function creep and other forms of misuse. This paper maps the use of biometric technology in sub-Saharan Africa by focusing on Kenya and South Africa as case studies. While there are clear advantages (e.g. reducing data theft and fraud, and accelerating economic development through data efficiencies), potential harms are associated with the networked gathering and storage of biometric data – this includes the misuse by criminal groups for financial gain.

About the authors

Karen Allen is a Senior Research Advisor on Emerging Threats in Africa as part of ISS’s Complex Threats in Africa Programme. She holds a Masters in International Relations and Contemporary War from King’s College London and is a Visiting Fellow at the same institution. She was previously a BBC foreign correspondent working across East and Southern Africa and Afghanistan.

Isel van Zyl, Research Officer in the Complex Threats in Africa programme, holds a Master’s degree in Advanced European and International Studies from the Centre international de formation européenne (CIFE) in Nice, France.


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