China Expanding Governmental DNA Database Raises Privacy Concerns
The Chinese government is expanding its governmental DNA database, but international human rights activists are concerned that the information is being collected without the appropriate privacy protection. Certain parties have also questioned the reasoning behind collecting DNA samples from selected groups of people.
Many countries collect DNA samples from criminals, including the UK and the USA, with the intention of helping to identify reoffenders upon their release. According to reports, however, China has been collecting DNA samples from the general population even in cases where there is no criminal suspicion. In particular, vulnerable groups and ethnic minorities appear to specifically being targeted, according to Human Rights Watch.
One such minority are the Muslim Uighurs in the Zinjiang region of Western China, which recently passed new restrictions to prevent Islamic extremism. Reports are now saying that Xinjiang authorities have spent $10 billion (£7.7 billion) on equipment for the collection and indexing of DNA samples.
“Mass DNA collection by the powerful Chinese police absent effective privacy protections or an independent judicial system is a perfect storm for abuses,” said Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.
While collecting DNA in criminal cases is generally accepted around the world, people within these programs are usually offered meaningful privacy protections to secure their data.
“Until that’s the case in China, the mass collection of DNA and the expansion of databases needs to stop,” Richardson said.
China started their DNA collection programme in 1989. Since then, they have gathered the genomic information of more than 40 million people, amounting to roughly 2.9% of their overall population. In contrast, the USA has indexed the DNA of around 12.7 million criminal offenders, although this makes up 4% of their overall population.