Database Entry: China: Police DNA Database Threatens Privacy
Surveillance Use of technology

China: Police DNA Database Threatens Privacy

May 15, 2017
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China’s police are collecting DNA from individuals for a nationally searchable database without oversight, transparency, or privacy protections, Human Rights Watch said today. Evidence suggests that the regional government in Xinjiang, an ethnic minority region with a history of government repression, intends to accelerate the collection and indexing of DNA.

Human Rights Watch reported in November 2016 that police have required all passport applicants in Xinjiang – not suspects or convicts in a criminal case – to supply DNA samples as part of their application. Xinjiang, home to approximately 10 million Muslim Uyghurs, has a long history of state repression.

Further investigation by Human Rights Watch found that in September 2016, the Xinjiang regional police bureau issued two calls for tender – at 60 million RMB (US$8.69 million) and 20 million RMB (US$2.90 million) – for a total of 12 DNA sequencers, 30 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplifiers, and 1000 batches of genotyping kits. The purchase indicates that the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (PSB) intends to build large-scale infrastructure to profile a large number of individuals, according to four DNA experts Human Rights Watch spoke to. However, because the full tender document is not publicly accessible, it is difficult to assess precisely the scope of this infrastructure.

In 2016, the Xinjiang PSB also issued a “Notice to Fully Carry Out the Construction of Three-Dimensional Portraits, Voiceprint and DNA Fingerprint Biometrics Collection System” (关于全面开展三维人像、声纹、DNA指纹生物信息采集系统建设相关工作的通知). But the full document is not publicly available. It is unclear who is targeted for such collection; how this information is to be used, shared, or stored; the rationale behind the collecting; or how one challenges the collection. A separate call for tender issued by the Yopurga County Police Bureau, Kashgar, Xinjiang, cited the “notice” and stated that the biometric collection is part of “stability maintenance.” Regional authorities have revealed little about these new efforts.