CrySP Speaker Series on Privacy

This speaker series is made possible by an anonymous charitable donation in memory of cypherpunks and privacy advocates Len Sassaman, Hugh Daniel, Hal Finney, and Caspar Bowden.

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Surveillance for Development? Implications of Surveillance-oriented Citizen Identification Systems in Global South countries

Smith Oduro-Marfo, University of Victoria

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April 8, 2022 1:00pm, in Zoom


Increasingly, citizen identification systems that are digital, biometric and interoperable are being introduced in Global South countries in the name of development. The assumption or fact that the Global South state must navigate a hardly legible society is being offered as a reason for the challenges with socio-economic development in the Global South. Thus practically, the relative underperformance of the Global South state in leading national development has become an excuse for introducing surveillance-oriented identification systems. My research in Ghana, for instance, shows a multi-actor consensus on the need for such surveillance-oriented systems in order for the state to enhance its capacity in resolving citizenship contestations, allocating taxes, collecting taxes, distributing social welfare, making economic policy, fighting crime and overall, leading the quest for socio-economic development. In this talk, I explore the implications of justifying surveillance-oriented systems in the name of development. I propose my Surveillance for Development (S4D) frame as a starting point in appreciating the trend and its meanings. I also connect my analysis to the ‘care or control’ debate in Surveillance Studies.


Smith Oduro-Marfo holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Victoria. He researches surveillance, privacy, technology policy and inclusiveness in the Global South. Smith’s doctoral dissertation supervised by Professors Colin Bennet, Marlea Clarke and Wisdom Tettey analyzed multi-actor debates for and against citizen identification systems in Ghana. In the study, he focused on three key national projects in Ghana: the national biometric identity card, national digital property addressing system and the SIM card registration exercise. Smith holds the CIPP/C certification and has been an IAAP Westin Scholar. He has also been a fellow with the Big Data Surveillance Network, the IDRC and the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria. Beyond his academic interests, Smith is invested in promoting inclusiveness and equity. He was the lead author for the recently-published Black in British Columbia needs assessment report, and action plan. The report assessed the implementation of the IDPAD in BC and offered 98 recommendations to the provincial government. He is a consultant and open to collaboration.