China’s new high tech social credit system has garnered significant media attention in recent months. International observers are concerned by the government's Orwellian attempt to control nearly every aspect of citizens’ lives.
Yet the government’s new security measures go further than a social credit program. State authorities are also developing the world’s biggest DNA database, using samples obtained from a range of social groups from around the country. One function of the DNA database will be to allow police to infer the geographical origin of suspects from DNA found at crime scenes.
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch has reported that that police have enormous discretion about whom to collect samples from and that there is little in the way of privacy protection or oversight. Ordinary citizens, who are neither convicted nor under investigation for a crime, can find themselves subjected to requests for blood samples from local authorities, the group said.
Authorities have focused in particular on collecting DNA samples from minority groups such as the Uighur people of Xinjiang province. State media reports stated that almost 36 million samples were obtained in Xinjiang between 2016 and 2017. A report in the New York Times on Friday suggested that some samples were obtained as part of free medical check-ups.
The same article detailed how US biotech company, Thermo Fisher, has sold human identification technology to authorities in Xinjiang. The company has announced this week that it would no longer be selling equipment in the region.
In a statement, the Xinjiang government has denied that it collects DNA samples as part of the free medical checkups. It said the DNA machines that were bought by the Xinjiang authorities were for “internal use”.
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