Dark Side of Cash & Digital Transformation: Surveillance

by | Feb 28, 2021 | ICT4D |


An article in the New Humanitarian this week caused a bit of a stir in certain circles. No, it wasn’t one about torture or conflict. happening in the world. No, it was an opinion piece about how cash programming contributes to surveillance.

I mostly agree with the article. I’ve talked about surveillance many times before. I think one would be hard pressed to make a case that cash programming doesn’t contribute to the possibility of surveillance. We register people digitally, give them digital cash or vouchers to spend in certain shops, and we track what they spend it on. We justify this as we want to understand what people are spending the funds on so that we can make various programming decisions or do other things. However, we track them. We track who they are, where they live, where they shop, what they buy, and many other things. This is hard to deny. And there is doubt, these actions will have long term consequences on the people we work with and the places we work.

My point of divergence from the article would be that while cash programming is the driver of this behaviour, it is actually the dark side of all digital transformation. When we ‘go digital’, we digitally register those we seek to serve and track our interactions with them.

And this is true not only in the lives of those we seek to serve, but ours as well.

And yes, one answer is to go ‘dark’ to the system by not engaging in any digital interactions. However that doesn’t appear realistic.

I don’t have answers, but I agree with the author, we’re not talking about this near enough.

Photo by Chris Yang


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