silencio homicida sobre los tibetanos en el Tibet

A policeman stands in front of a massive building in Tibet
A paramilitary police officer stands guard in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. © 2015 Damir Sagolj/Reuters

DNA Surveillance in Tibet

The Chinese government is already fiercely repressing Tibet, but now it is literally taking blood without consent to propel its surveillance state.

A new report details how Chinese authorities are increasing policing and arbitrarily collecting DNA samples from people in villages and towns across the Tibet Autonomous Region.

According to an April 2022 media report, police in one municipality began collecting blood samples from many local residents, including kindergartners. In December 2020, it was reported that in another township, DNA was being collected from all boys aged 5 and above.

Sound like dystopian fiction? Unfortunately, it’s part of a very real Chinese government trend.

Chilling Violations

The official line from Chinese authorities is that DNA collection drives assist with efforts to “crack down on illegal and criminal elements” in the region. In reality, they are part of efforts by Chinese authorities to establish police presence at the grassroots level.

These Chinese government drives collect DNA information from everyone, regardless of whether they are linked to a criminal investigation. The drives do not appear to require informed consent or explanation of why DNA samples are sought.

From what we know, people cannot decline providing their DNA to police, and authorities do not need evidence of criminal conduct to warrant such collection.

And it’s not just Tibet.

In 2017, we reported on how Chinese authorities in the Xinjiang region were collecting DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types of all residents between the age of 12 and 65, ostensibly for a “public health” program. As in Tibet, there was no indication that residents in Xinjiang could opt out of the data collection.

Threats to Privacy

DNA information is highly sensitive and can facilitate a wide array of abuses if collected or shared non-consensually. Any compelled collection or use by the government is a serious intrusion on the right to privacy.
Mural on a wall in Xinjiang shows a Chinese policeman with a raised fist
A mural in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, September 20, 2012. © 2012 Getty Images
And it poses heightened risks to children’s privacy, potentially leading to adverse consequences that can follow them their entire lives.

While government collection of DNA is sometimes justified as a permissible investigative tool, this type of interference must be regulated, narrow, and proportionate to meeting a legitimate security goal.

Chinese authorities’ stated use for this data – crime detection – does not appear to be legitimate or proportionate. And it certainly does not appear to serve the best interest of its citizens – including children.

Other China News

HRW, September 9, 2022