The police in China are collecting blood samples from men and boys from across the country to build a genetic map of its roughly 700 million males, giving authorities a powerful new tool for their emerging high-tech surveillance state.
They have swept across the country since late 2017 to collect enough samples to build a vast DNA database, according to a new study published on Wednesday by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a research organisation, based on documents also reviewed by The New York Times. With this database, authorities would be able to track down a man’s male relatives using only that man’s blood, saliva or other genetic material.
A US company, Thermo Fisher, is helping: The Massachusetts company has sold testing kits to Chinese police tailored to their specifications. American lawmakers have criticized Thermo Fisher for selling equipment to Chinese authorities, but the company has defended its business.
The project is a major escalation of China’s efforts to use genetics to control its people, which had been focused on tracking ethnic minorities and other, more targeted groups. It would add to a growing, sophisticated surveillance net that the police are deploying across the country, one that increasingly includes advanced cameras, facial recognition systems and artificial intelligence.
The police say they need the database to catch criminals and that donors consent to handing over their DNA. Some officials within China, as well as human rights groups outside its borders, warn that a national DNA database could invade privacy and tempt officials to punish the relatives of dissidents and activists. Rights activists argue that the collection is being done without consent because citizens living in an authoritarian state have virtually no right to refuse.
Already, the program is running into an unusual amount of opposition in China.
“The ability of the authorities to discover who is most intimately related to whom, given the context of the punishment of entire families as a result of one person’s activism, is going to have a chilling effect on society as a whole,” said Maya Wang, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch…READ MORE