Jamie Grace wrote this article.

It be should acknowledged that the concept of property, and the related concept of ownership, is central to Western society.  Property is always a common denominator of value – and as such our legal system is devoted to protecting property ownership – both of objects and of land. Land then, is to be fought over – even in the courts.  The aim of this article is to refute the notion that a DNA- or biometric-driven land registry system is desirable for reasons of not practicality but of justice, and the avoidance of harm.

One writer, Toby Stevens, has put forward the original hypothesis,
‘that the provision of population-scale identity management systems has
the potential to underpin an economic revolution that will put an end
to many of society’s ills. Stevens has the notion that a biometric
system of land registration and proof-of-ownership would represent an
unassailable method of ‘asserting uniqueness of the individual, and
entitlement to ownership.’

An article by CNN journalist Cherise Fong highlights how secure biometrics can make property ownership – not just commercial transactions:

‘Besides fingerprints, other physiological biometrics include face
recognition, iris scan, retina scan, hand geometry, facial thermogram,
body odor, hand or finger veins, footprints and palm prints.’

This notion that a secure, national or global land registry could be
protected by biometrics or DNA technology – if it took hold – would
prove dangerous.

Stevens uses the example of the ‘land grab’ of Zimbabwe’s recent
past under Mugabe as being something that could be prevented by a
biometric-driven land registry system – without grasping that the
preponderance of evidence is that such a system, if powered by genetic
information, would be utilised to make sectarian and racially-divisive
political aims more achievable with respect to land redistribution
(either peacefully or through bloodshed).

We’re talking here about a concerted pogrom-style level of turmoil – not just an increased risk of vigilantism.
Most people will be aware of the prolonged, sectarian massacre that was
the Rwandan genocide of 1994 – when approximately eight hundred
thousand to one million ‘Tutsi’ Rwandans were murdered in orchestrated
outbursts of terrible violence by their ‘Hutu’ neighbours.

The writer Paul Magnarella highlights, in an excellent literature review, the colonial complicity involved
in creating scientifically unsound ‘ethnicities’ amongst the Rwandan
population – part of ‘divide and rule’ strategy by colonialists in
Africa generally:

“During 1933-34, the Belgians conducted a census and
introduced an identity card system that indicated the Tutsi, Hutu, or
Twa “ethnicity” of each person. The identity card “ethnicity” of future
generations was determined patrilineally; all persons were designated
as having the “ethnicity” of their fathers, regardless of the
“ethnicity” of their mothers.

This practice, which was carried on until
its abolition by the 1994 post-genocide government, had the unfortunate
consequence of firmly attaching a sub-national identity to all Rwandans
and thereby rigidly dividing them into categories, which, for many
people, carried a negative history of dominance-subordination,
superiority, inferiority, and exploitation-suffering. In their “Hutu
Manifesto” of 1957, Hutu leaders referred to the identity card
categories as “races,” thereby evincing how inflexible these labels had
become in their minds.”

A biometrics land registry could be utilised by an unscrupulous
dictator or a zealous, hate-filed society to repeat this process on a
truly industrialised, Information Age-scale.

A system that used DNA-recognition to track and verify land
ownership (with the connection genomic DNA data necessarily has to
race, heritage, and therefore, culture and politics) would be a 21st
century nightmare.

9 Comments

  1. This is a fascinating topic, Jamie, and I thank you for the article!
    How should we view the ownership of land? Do we merely lease it from a governing authority? If we own the land upon which our houses stand — how is it possible to disavow that ownership by using the rule of eminent domain?
    One major pull for immigration to the “new country” — especially the subsequent Westward push — from the UK to the USA was the novel idea of actually owning the land you tilled instead of leasing it from a royal/landed first generation family from hundreds of years ago. Now… there was that nasty Indian “we were here first” argument that has yet to really be settled…
    Do you think if we had “DNA Ownership of Land” during WWII that it might have, in some way, restored the rightful owner of property and possessions after the fall of the German empire? If protecting land ownership in that way is still out of the question — what about biometric proof of ownership for paintings, jewels and golden trinkets?

  2. The chief concern I would have with a system of proof of land ownership relying on DNA technology, or ‘DNA Ownership of Land’, would be that such a system would be open to possible abuse. When times and cultures changed, if the DNA land ownership existed unsullied, surely it could not possibly be used to reinstste ownership?
    For example, if such a database could be used to tie, say, US citizens with Native American ancestry to certsin geographical areas, would those in current ownership just let their land be taken away and given to the ‘ancestral’ owners? I doubt it! In the same way, Eastern Europe after WWII was the object of Stalin’s Russia, for example, a man not known as a dictator with positive racial views – there is strong evidence to suggest he was intent on the eradication of true ‘Polish nationalist’ movements during the war, subsequent to which he rapidly oversaw the absorption of Poland into his Party-run super-state. Legal niceties were not observed with respect to the ownership of any property.
    Interestingly, the mortal remains of individuals, members of many indigenous peoples from locations around the globe currently held by British museums, may be being returned to their native lands at last after long periods in ‘exile’. See: http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk/nwh_gfx_en/ART30860.html

  3. I had not heard or read about that! Nice to know that people with criminal intent will at least pursue their ends with a smile!
    On a serious point, the physical observation of our behaviour is perhaps the least of our worries – taking place as it does in largely public areas, where we, I would argue, consent to follow ‘acceptable’ societal rules of behaviour.

  4. Fantastic reply, Jamie.
    Right on point, I just received this in email moments ago:

    New DNA research featured on the Jan. 13, 2009 cover of Current Biology magazine shows the first Ice Age people across the Bering land bridge included two distinct genetic groups that then migrated on widely separated routes at the same time. This surprising evidence challenges the long-held belief the earliest Americans brought with them a single language and culture as they left Asia.
    With molecular genetics, scientists can now analyze complete Native American genomes for the first time and provide insights into deep history that archaeology alone cannot.

    Wouldn’t it have been fantastic if those people made a DNA land grab claim? The entire world as we know it would have an entirely different history!

  5. I agree Nicola – a disturbing notion – it’s not like the world doesn’t already have enough problems with claims to the ownership of territory based on religious faith, as in Gaza, etc.

  6. Hi Jamie,
    I am slightly late welcoming you here, but – better late than never!
    Awesome topic – something I was not familar with at all!
    It would be certainly interesting to see the final outcome of this proposition.As you have perfectly said – any system is open to abuse – with this DNA registration it would be very interesting to observe the “fight of ownership”.

  7. Hi Kathakali, thanks for the welcome,
    I think at the very least it would be interesting, perhaps quite harrowing. I sincerely hope it does not become reality – electronic registration to title for land is one thing – I’m all for efficiency – but not a biometric or DNA aystem for this purpose.