Beijing collects DNA samples from millions in Xinjiang

Modesto Morganelli
Dicembre 14, 2017

Human Rights Watch has slammed China for the way it is collecting DNA and biometrics from citizens in its restive Xinjiang province.

According to HRW, part of the collection was being done through government-provided medical check-ups and it was unclear if patients were aware that the exam was also created to transmit biometric data to the police.

Almost 19 million people have participated in the medical exams, dubbed Physicals for All, in 2017, according to state news agency Xinhua. For people determined to be "focus personnel" - a euphemism for those the government views as unsafe - their data will be collected regardless of age.

The Uighur community is based in this region.

"The mandatory databanking of a whole population's biodata, including DNA, is a gross violation of worldwide human rights norms", said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.

Beijing collects DNA samples from millions in Xinjiang
Beijing collects DNA samples from millions in Xinjiang

In the massive effort to collect biometric data from millions of residents, police in Xinjiang bought DNA sequencers from the United States company Thermo Fisher Scientific, according to Human Rights Watch.

"Xinjiang authorities should rename their physical exams project "Privacy Violations for All", as informed consent and real choice does not seem to be part of these programs", she added.

The rights group is concerned about the data collection as iris scans, DNA and blood type could be used for "surveillance of persons because of ethnicity, religion, opinion or other protected exercise of rights like free speech", further adding to controls in a region some analysts have dubbed an "open air prison". Because of this, Xinjiang has always been subject to tight control and intense levels of surveillance not experienced elsewhere in China.

Everyone who lives in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang, and is between the ages of 12 and 65, is being targeted for their biodata, says the document, which was posted on the website of a local government located in the region.

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