Beginning in the early 2000s, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security has been building a searchable, national DNA database as part of their police information project, Golden Shield. As of 2015, the “Forensic Science DNA Database System” has amassed over 44 million “miscellaneous data entries” from more than 40 million individuals. The database of DNA information is the largest in the world, according to the Chinese government, especially when compared to the second, separate “Combat Trafficking DNA Database” which contains just over 513,000 DNA entries. Authorities claimed that the databases are for crime-fighting purpose, but people like Human Rights Watch‘s China Director Sophie Richardson have called it “Orwellian.”
The word itself is evocative of the totalitarian society in George Orwell’s landmark novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, wherein all of the novel’s citizens are constantly being monitored by the government through cameras. It aptly describes how many Chinese citizens feel after police forcibly collected DNA samples from them. Social media platforms such as Tieba, Weibo, Tianya and Zhidao have become replete with stories from concerned and enraged netizens. As stated by many a citizen, police officers without warrants entered their homes, workplaces, and schools for sampling. Others recalled being required to give DNA samples when they applied for ID cards or residency permits.
One netizen described this happening to them while undergoing a routine roadside ID check. They wrote in their Tianya post: “Why was I treated like this? I am not a criminal, but this is worse than a criminal, I’ve been feeling very upset. I’m afraid what they’d do to my sample.”
Another citizen had a similar experience when they applied for an ID. “I went to the county police station to get them to re-issue my ID, and they took my blood and DNA sample…why did they take my DNA?” The netizen wrote on Tieba. “ [They said] that’s the rule. If you don’t let us do it we won’t issue [your ID] …now even f****g DNA belongs to the Chinese Communist Party!” (Related: China now assigning ‘citizen scores’ to target dissenters and maintain sheep-like obedience among populace)
Far from limiting DNA sample collecting to criminals, suspects, and ordinary citizens, the police force has also turned their attention to anyone they have deemed as potential threats. Migrant workers, petitioners, peaceful government critics, and locksmiths are just some of the people who fall under this broad umbrella. One particularly egregious case involved passport applicants in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, home to 10 million Muslim Uyghurs. The Turkic ethnic group has long been subjected to state repression, and local authorities have intensified their efforts against them in the wake of increasing terrorist activities worldwide, reported QZ.com.
Although the legitimate uses of DNA collection are undeniable, there are questions about China’s DNA database that have yet to be answered. Beyond what has been written in Article 130 in the country’s Criminal Procedure Law, there have to definite answers on how the data will be stored or how it will be used. As was written: “To ascertain certain features, conditions of injuries, or physical conditions of a victim or a criminal suspect, a physical examination may be conducted, and fingerprints, blood, urine and other biological samples may be collected.”
In a statement to HRW.org, Richardson commented: “Mass DNA collection by the powerful Chinese police absent effective privacy protections or an independent judicial system is a perfect storm for abuses. China is moving its Orwellian system to the genetic level.”
When approached by the rights group, Chinese Ministry of Public Security declined a request for comment.
Find similar stories of how science is used to create tyranny at ScienceTyranny.com.