The Xinjiang Data Project

Explainers

Genomic surveillance

Inside China’s DNA dragnet

Cras mattis consectetur purus sit amet fermentum.

China’s government is building the world’s largest police-run DNA database in close cooperation with key international industry partners. Yet, unlike the managers of other forensic databases, the authorities in Beijing are deliberately enrolling tens of millions of people, including preschool-age children, who have no history of serious criminal activity.
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    Based on
     
    Original Report
     
    by
     
    Australian Strategic Policy Institute
    June 2020
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    The report details how, in late 2017, China’s Ministry of Public Security began a national campaign of compulsory DNA data collection on an astounding scale.

    We estimate that, since late 2017, the authorities have sought to collect DNA samples from 5–10% of China’s male population, or roughly 35–70 million people.

    China’s total forensic DNA database likely contains more than 100 million profiles, and possibly as many as 140 million, and it continues to grow.

    Blood collection in Tongchuan, Shaanxi Province, June 2019
    ‘Tongchuan police: Hongqiao Yuhua Police Station completed the annual DNA blood sample information collection task’ (铜川公安:虹桥玉华派出所完成全年DNA血样信息采集任务), Hongqiao Yuhua Police Station (虹桥玉华派出所), 9 June 2018
    SOURCE

    Targeted individuals have no control over how their samples are collected, stored and used. Nor do they have a clear understanding of the potential implications of DNA collection for themselves and their extended families.

    Blood collection in Ningde, Zhejiang Province, April 2019
    Nodded attention! Male family blood sample collection work started’ (点头人注意!男性家族血样采集工作开始了), Sohu (搜狐网), 30 April 2019
    SOURCE

    In contrast to earlier DNA collection programs in Tibet and Xinjiang, authorities are collecting samples from selected male citizens across China.

    This targeted approach gathers Y-STR data—the ‘short tandem repeat’ or unique DNA sequences that occur on the male (Y) chromosome.

    • Blood being collected as part of the free physical exam projects in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, May 2013

      ‘Tibet: People’s physical examination to protect the health of the people on the plateau’ (西藏:全民体检为高原百姓保健康), Government of China Web (中国政府网), 15 May 2013
      SOURCE
    • Blood being collected as part of the free physical exam projects in Urumqi, Xinjiang Autonomous Region, February 2018

      Xinjiang National Health Checkup: Cover the last mile and benefit the furthest family’ (新疆全民健康体检:覆盖最后一公里 惠及最远一家人), Xinhuanet (新华网), 9 February 2019
      SOURCE

    When these samples are linked to multigenerational family trees created by the police, they could link any DNA sample from an unknown male back to a specific family and even an individual.

    • Collecting genealogical data by hand, Jinan, Shandong Province, September 2018

      ‘The Chengguan Office successfully completed the Y library information collection task’ (城关所圆满完成Y库信息采集任务) Chegguan Police Station (城关派出所), 29 September 2018
      SOURCE
    • Completed family trees, Luliang, Shanxi Province, June 2018

      ‘Lin County Public Security Bureau Y-STR DNA Family Investigation System Construction Database’ (临县公安局: Y—STR DNA家族排查系统建设数据库), Meipian (美篇网), 26 June 2018
      SOURCE

    Drawing on more than 700 sources, we document hundreds of police-led DNA collection sorties in 22 of China’s 31 administrative regions (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) and across more than a hundred municipalities between late 2017 and April 2020.

    DNA collection occurs in a range of places including schools, streets, shops and village offices.

    • Blood collection in Binhe Township, Zhongwei, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, June 2018

      ‘Actively carry out DNA blood sample collection’ (积极开展DNA血样采集工作), Binhe National Security Web(滨河治安国保), 13 June 2018
      SOURCE
    • Blood collection in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, April 2020

      ‘The technical squadron of the Criminal Police Brigade of the Huyi Branch Bureau fully endeavoured to ensure the smooth progress of the construction of the Y library’ (鄠邑分局刑警大队技术中队全力保障Y库建设工作顺利进行), Meipian (美篇网), 2 April 2020
      SOURCE
    • "DNA sample collection in a private residence in Tongchuan, Shaanxi Province, February 2019 "

      ‘Chen Jiashan Police Station catches up and surpasses, and completes the Y library information collection task’ (陈家山派出所追赶超越 全面完成Y库信息采集任务), Meipian (美篇网), 24 February 2019
      SOURCE

    In none of these cases is data collected as part of an active forensic investigation. Nor are any of the targeted individuals identified as criminal suspects or as relatives of potential offenders.

    More disturbing still is the compulsory collection of DNA samples from children in kindergartens and elementary schools.

    • Police-led DNA collection from middle and elementary school students in Hanzhong County, Shaanxi Province, October 2019

      ‘This elementary school in Nanzheng District has launched the collection of student DNA samples’ (南郑区这个小学,开展了学生DNA样本采集), Eastday (东方咨询), 12 October 2019
      SOURCE
    • Police-led DNA collection from middle and elementary school students in Shifan County, Sichuan Province, September 2019

      Shigu Junior High School actively cooperates with the public security police to do a good job of collecting DNA samples from teenagers’ (师古初中积极配合公安民警做好青少年DNA样本采集工作), Shifang City Government Web (什邡市人民政府), 12 September 2019
      SOURCE
    • Blood collection in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, January 2020

      The Zoukou Police Station combined with the “Millions of Police Entering Tens of Millions Community” activity, went deep into the jurisdiction to carry out male “Y” blood sample collection work’ (零口派出所结合“百万警进千万家”活动,深入辖区开展男性“Y”系血样采集工作), Meipian (美篇网), 14 January 2020
      SOURCE

    Efforts to include innocent civilians in forensic databases in other countries, including the UK and Kuwait, were deemed gross violations of privacy and eventually abandoned.

    In sharp contrast, China’s authoritarian system makes police requests for samples impossible to refuse.

    China’s program appears to be part of larger efforts to deepen social control and develop multimodal biometric profiles of individual citizens, including retinal scans, fingerprints and vocal recordings.

    When completed, it could allow police to connect biometric data from any unknown sample to personal information.

    • One of more than 1,500 blood samples collected from kindergarten and elementary school students in Xiabaishi Township, Fujian Province, June 2019

      ‘Xiabaishi police energetically launch male ancestry inspection system development work’ (下白石派出所大力开展男性家族排查系统建设工作), Gugang Huangqi Weixin (古港黄崎威信), 4 June 2019
      SOURCE
    • Blood collection in Shangrao, Jiangxi Province, October 2019 (cropped)

      ‘Xianshan Primary School: District public security bureau visits the school to collect blood samples’ (仙山小学:区公安局到校进行血样采集), Meipian (美篇网), 1 November 2019
      SOURCE

    The corporate world is profiting handsomely from this new surveillance program.

    Leading Chinese and multinational companies have provided the Chinese police with equipment and intellectual property to collect, store and analyse DNA samples.

    Among the multinational companies participating is the US-based biotech giant Thermo Fisher Scientific, which has boasted, ‘In China, our company is providing immense technical support for the construction of the national DNA database, and has already helped to build the world’s largest DNA database.’

    The company says its VeriFiler Plus and Yfiler Platinum PCR amplification kits were created in direct response to the Ministry of Public Security’s need for enhanced discriminatory capacity tailored to China’s ethnic make-up.

    Such kits are a key to the program and have been purchased by local public security bureaus across China.

    Blood collection in Anqing, Anhui Province, May 2019
    ‘In order to build the Y-DNA bank and not affect the farming time of the masses, the auxiliary policemen from Liuping Police Station entered the field on 17 May to collect blood samples for the Y-DNA bank from the people in the jurisdiction and publicise safety precautions’, (为了Y库建设工作和不影响群众农耕时间5月17日柳坪派出所民辅警走进田间地头,为辖区群众采集Y库血样和宣传安全防范), Susong Liuping Police (宿松柳坪派出所), video, 17 May 2019
    SOURCE

    China’s unprecedented genomic surveillance program not only violates Chinese domestic law but also international human rights norms, including the UN Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, the UN International Declaration on Human Genetic Data, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

    Download full report
    ASPI Report
    Genomic surveillance: Inside China's DNA dragnet
    by Emile Dirks, James Leibold
    Jun 17, 2020
    SurveillanceASPI
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