The hi-tech alchemy of China on DNA

The hi-tech alchemy of China on DNA

What the News York Times wrote about police moves in China in symbiosis with other authorities for security and surveillance purposes

Chinese police are collecting blood samples from men and boys across the country to build a genetic map of its approximately 700 million males, giving authorities a powerful new tool for their emerging high-tech surveillance status, writes the NYT. .

Since late 2017, they have raked the whole country to collect enough samples to build a vast DNA database, according to a new study published Wednesday by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a research organization, based on documents also consulted by the New York Times . With this database, the authorities would be able to trace a man's male relatives using only man's blood, saliva or other genetic material.

The project is an important escalation of China's efforts to use genetics to control its population, which has focused on monitoring ethnic minorities and other more targeted groups. It would add to an ever more sophisticated and growing surveillance network that police are deploying across the country, which includes more and more advanced cameras, facial recognition systems and artificial intelligence.

Police say they need the database to catch criminals and that donors agree to hand 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 induce officials to punish relatives of dissidents and activists.
The campaign also involves schools.

"If blood is not allowed – said a person quoted by the NYT – the subject and relatives are defined as 'black family'", depriving him and his family of benefits such as the right to travel and go to the hospital. The momentum for the campaign can be traced to a crime spree in the northern China region of Inner Mongolia. For nearly three decades, police have investigated the rape and murder of 11 women and girls, including one just 8 years old, collecting 230,000 fingerprints and sieving more than 100,000 DNA samples. They offered a $ 28,000 reward.

Then, in 2016, they arrested a man on charges of unrelated corruption, according to state media.

According to state media, China already has the largest genetic heritage in the world, with a total of 80 million profiles. But previously efforts to collect DNA were often more targeted. Officials targeted suspects or criminal groups whom they believed were potentially destabilizing, such as migrant workers in some neighborhoods. Police also collected the DNA of minority ethnic groups such as the Uyghurs to strengthen Communist Party control over them.

The effort to compile a national male database expands these efforts, said Emile Dirks, author of the Australian institute's report and PhD student in the political science department of the University of Toronto. "We are witnessing the expansion of these models to the rest of China in an aggressive way that I don't think we have ever seen before," said Mr. Dirks.

In the report published by the Australian institute, the authorities are estimated to have collected DNA samples from 35 million to 70 million men and boys, or around 5-10% of the Chinese male population. They don't need to sample every male, because a person's DNA sample can unlock the genetic identity of male relatives.

When the Times tried to fax the database questions to the Ministry of Public Security, an employee said he could not accept them "without the permission of a senior official."

Local officials often publicly announce the results of their sampling. In Donglan County in the Guangxi region, police said they collected more than 10,800 samples, covering nearly 10% of the male population. In Yijun County, Shaanxi Province, police said they collected more than 11,700 samples, or a quarter.

To assess the project's ambitions, the Australian institute examined sampling rates in 10 counties and districts, then studied purchase orders for DNA test kits from 16 other jurisdictions. The Times reviewed the same public documents, along with 15 similar orders from the past six months that were not included in the report.

Purchase orders were often executed by Chinese companies, but some contracts went to Thermo Fisher, a Massachusetts-based manufacturer of genetic testing equipment.

Thermo Fisher sold DNA test kits to police agencies from at least nine counties and cities to create a "male ancestry inspection system", or a male DNA database, according to company offer documents found by the Mr. Dirks and verified by the Times.

(Excerpt from the international press review by Epr Comunicazione)

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL on Sat, 20 Jun 2020 05:27:41 +0000.