China collecting DNA, biometrics from millions in Xinjiang: report

Chinese military police attend an anti-terrorist oath-taking rally in Xinjiang.

Story highlights

  • Authorities appear to building vast database of biometric and other information
  • Such collection may go against international human rights norms

Hong Kong (CNN)Authorities in China's far-west are collecting DNA samples, fingerprints, eye scans and blood types of millions of people aged 12 to 65, according to a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.

Xinjiang, the only Chinese territory apart from Tibet where ethnic Han Chinese are not in the majority, has long been subject to tight controls and surveillance not experienced elsewhere in China.
    In April, authorities banned the region's 10 million Muslims from wearing long beards or veils in public, as well as banning home schooling and introducing new restrictions on downloading allegedly extremist materials.
    Those new rules came on the heels of a series of steps to increase surveillance in the region that include the surrender of passports and mandatory GPS trackers in cars.
    "The mandatory databanking of a whole population's biodata, including DNA, is a gross violation of international human rights norms," Sophie Richardson, China director for HRW, said in a statement.
    The Ministry of Public Security and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    Data collection

    According to a document posted on a Xinjiang government website, the main goal of the new scheme "is to fully and accurately verify the real number of Xinjiang's population, to collect the images, fingerprints, iris scans, blood types, and DNA biometrics of those between the age of 12 and 65."
    That information is to be linked to residents' hukou, or household registration cards. The controversial registration system limits where people can access education, medical and housing benefits, essentially limiting many to the region where they were born.
    "Regulating the management of identification cards is the foundation to creating a basic population database, based on one's ID numbers, for the autonomous region," the government document said.
    Officials are instructed to "ensure that the hukou information for everyone in every household, in every village is completely verified in Xinjiang. No one is to be missed."
    Xinjiang is home to an estimated 21.8 million people according to 2010 census figures, though the true population could be much higher, owing to the number of migrant workers attracted to the region for work.
    According to the HRW report, the regulations went into effect in February and have been being rolled out across Xinjiang throughout the year. While part of the scheme is designed to improve access to healthcare, DNA and blood type data is to be provided to the police "for profiling," the guidelines said.
    Photo taken on February 27, 2017 shows Chinese military police getting off a plane to attend an anti-terrorist oath-taking rally in Hetian, Xinjiang.