A Chinese province is collecting DNA and iris scans from all its residents

Guang Niu/Getty ImagesPolicemen shout slogans as they march on July 8, 2009 in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, China.
  • Authorities in one Chinese province are collecting DNA, iris scans, fingerprints and blood types from residents.
  • The biometric data collection appears to be mandatory.
  • This province also monitors residents with facial-recognition cameras, surveillance apps, and voice-recognition technology.

Authorities in the Chinese province of Xinjiang have begun collecting DNA and biometrics from all its residents, Human Rights Watch reported Wednesday.

All residents between 12 and 65 are having DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types collected.

Called The Population Registration Program, police will be collecting iris scans and fingerprints during home visits or by creating centralised collection points. Medical authorities will collect DNA samples and blood type information during yearly physicals that are then sent to police bureaus “for profiling.”

Participation does not appear to be optional. One man told Human Rights Watch that local committee members “had demanded that they [people in his neighbourhood] must participate in the physicals.”

Guidelines direct officials “to ensure that [information from] every household in every village, every person in every household, every item for every person” is collected.

It is also unclear whether locals getting examinations – under the program ‘Physicals for All,’ which ended in October – know their medical data is being collected.

“Xinjiang authorities should rename their physical exams project ‘Privacy Violations for All,’ as informed consent and real choice does not seem to be part of these programs,” Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch, said. “The mandatory data-banking of a whole population’s biodata, including DNA, is a gross violation of international human rights norms, and it’s even more disturbing if it is done surreptitiously, under the guise of a free health care program.”

Xinjiang has a very different population to the rest of China

Uyghur men gather for a holiday meal during the Corban Festival on September 13, 2016 in Turpan County, in the far western Xinjiang province, China.Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesUyghur men gather for a holiday meal during the Corban Festival on September 13, 2016 in Turpan County, in the far western Xinjiang province, China.

The demographics of Xinjiang are very different to the rest of China, and have led to strong government crackdowns.

Across China, 92% of residents are ethnic Hans. But in Xinjiang, 49% of its 20 million residents are ethnically Uyghurs, most of whom are Muslim.

Living in China’s largest province with their own strong ethnic identity and language, Uyghur people face discrimination and a large share of government oversight to suppress any potential separatism.

Reports have emerged this year of men, women and children being detained at “political education” centres in Xinjiang, where they are forced to watch government propaganda videos and renounce their ethnic and religious identities.

Uyghurs are living in a surveillance state

N Uighur woman protests in front of policemen at a street on July 7, 2009 in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, China.Guang Niu/Getty Imagesn Uighur woman protests in front of policemen at a street on July 7, 2009 in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, China.

Government surveillance in Xinjiang is ubiquitous.

In the last year Xinjiang recruited more than 90,000 personnel for security positions. Nearly all of them will work at 7,500“convenience police stations” dotted throughout the region.

Facial-recognition cameras are common and authorities have requested residents install surveillance apps on their phones.

In 2016 Xinjiang police bureaus began collecting residents’ voice samples. This was likely an early step toward China’s national voice database, that will be able to automatically identify targeted voices in phone conversations.

Also in 2016, several areas of Xinjiang announced that locals would need approval to travel overseas.

All passport holders had to report to local police stations where their passports would be held for “safekeeping.” Once passports were handed over, those wanting to travel internationally would need to apply for ” approval to leave the country.”

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