Exposing Citizenship

Coded exposure is not simply an American phenomenon, nor is it an issue that exists only when societies explicitly use the language of “race” in social and political life. Caste, religion, nationality, and disability are routinely racialized, to the extent that they signify immutable and stratified human differences. Moving beyond the US context, digitizing identity in governmental practices can lead to new forms of surveillance, coercion, and subordination.70 UK’s Human Provenance Pilot Project, India’s Unique Identity Project (UID), and Kuwait’s National DNA Initiative show how the racialization of inequality produces an allure of objectivity and inevitability that makes it even harder to question and change the techno status quo.

In 2009, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) initiated the Human Provenance Pilot Project (HPPP), with the aim of using genetic ancestry testing and isotope analysis to vet asylum claims.71 If, over the course of a standard interview, caseworkers grew suspicious of an applicant’s story, they would request samples of saliva, nails, and hair. The primary targets of the project were East Africans. Somali applicants escaping persecution were eligible for asylum, so if the tests indicated that someone was from Kenya – a phenomenon dubbed “nationality swapping” – that person was scheduled for deportation. A letter from the deputy director of the project stated that “all samples will be provided voluntarily,”72 but caseworkers were encouraged to regard refusal to submit samples with suspicion. The official protocol instructed:

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If an asylum applicant refused to provide samples for the isotope analysis and DNA testing the case owner could draw a negative inference as to the applicant’s credibility … There must be other compelling evidence which also clearly demonstrates that the applicant has attempted to conceal information or mislead the UKBA. It must not be stated within the RFRL [Reasons for Refusal Letter] in isolation and must certainly not be stated as a primary reason for refusing the applicant’s asylum claim.