The African experience with mobile telephony has been extolled as a defining moment in the continent’s contemporary economic, social, and political development. Yet SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) registration schemes are threatening to throttle the technology’s developmental potential. These mandates, which require the registration of identity information to activate a mobile SIM card, are fast becoming universal in Africa, with little to no public debate about the wider social or political effects. Whereas some authors have explored the motivations behind these drives, as well as their potential economic impacts, this paper focuses its critique on the broader diversity of implications of this regulatory transformation. Viewing SIM registration through a lens that surveillance studies and information & communication technologies for development, it examines elements of resistance across a range of actors, as well as other emerging effects like access barriers, linkages to financialization, and Africa’s budding mobile surveillance society.
Additionally, he and I have a piece in Public Understanding of Science about the way in which a failed project of British biometric identification attempted to conjure ‘the public’ only to find multiple publics emerge. (open access version)
Before a newly-elected government abandoned the project in 2010, for at least eight years the British state actively sought to introduce a mandatory national identification scheme for which the science and technology of biometrics was central. Throughout the effort, government representatives attempted to portray biometrics as a technology that was easily understandable and readily accepted by the public. However, neither task was straightforward. Instead, particular publics emerged that showed biometric technology was rarely well understood and often disagreeable. In contrast to some traditional conceptualizations of the relationship between public understanding and science, it was often those entities that best understood the technology that found it least acceptable, rather than those populations that lacked knowledge. This paper analyzes the discourses that pervaded the case in order to untangle how various publics are formed and exhibit differing, conflicting understandings of a novel technology.