Genealogical Surveillance

China Is Building a Genetic Database of Every Man in the Country

And an American company is selling China the equipment.

6. 17. 20 / Dan Robitzski
Victor Tangermann
Image by Victor Tangermann

Chinese police are gathering blood samples from the country’s roughly 700 million men and boys — with the express purpose of building a national genetic database of their DNA.

The Chinese government has reportedly been collecting these genetic codes since 2017, according to new research. Police have been showing up to people’s homes and even schools to draw blood and compile genetic information.

Once they’re done, the state will be able to track down any man or boy’s male relatives based on their genes, according to The New York Times, vastly enhancing China’s already ubiquitous surveillance powers into a Gattaca-esque genetic panopticon.

Even more alarming is that at least one American company, Thermo Fisher, is helping China do it — the pharma company sold China the tailor-made DNA testing kits that police are using to collect samples after actively pursuing the contract, the NYT reports. After the U.S. government criticized Thermo Fisher’s decision, the company continued onward.

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Law enforcement officials in China cite law and order to justify their growing genetic database, arguing that the surveillance effort will help with criminal investigations. But human rights advocates — and even some officials in China — are concerned about the privacy implications of forcing everyone to surrender their genetic code.

“The ability of the authorities to discover who is most intimately related to whom, given the context of the punishment of entire families as a result of one person’s activism, is going to have a chilling effect on society as a whole,” Human Rights Watch researcher Maya Wang told the NYT.


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