Policy report

Genomic surveillance: inside China’s DNA dragnet

DNA sampling Human rights Totalitarian systems Forensic sciences China

Earlier Chinese Government DNA collection campaigns focused on Tibet and Xinjiang, but, beginning in late 2017, the Ministry of Public Security expanded the dragnet across China, targeting millions of men and boys with the aim to ‘comprehensively improve public security organs’ ability to solve cases, and manage and control society’. This program of mass DNA data collection violates Chinese domestic law and global human rights norms. And, when combined with other surveillance tools, it will increase the power of the Chinese state and further enable domestic repression in the name of stability maintenance and social control.

Numerous biotechnology companies are assisting the Chinese police in building this database and may find themselves complicit in these violations. They include multinational companies such as US-based Thermo Fisher Scientific and major Chinese companies like AGCU Scientific and Microread Genetics. All these companies have an ethical responsibility to ensure that their products and processes don’t violate the fundamental human rights and civil liberties of Chinese citizens.

Foreign governments must strengthen export controls on biotechnology and related intellectual property and research data that’s sold to or shared with the Chinese Government and its domestic public and private partners. Chinese and multinational companies should conduct due diligence and independent audits to ensure that their forensic DNA products and processes are not being used in ways that violate the human and civil rights of Chinese citizens.

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Policy Brief Report No.34/2020