Scientists object to DNA collection from Uyghurs

Science & Health

As part of the Orwellian project of surveillance and control of Muslim ethnic minorities like Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Chinese authorities have systematically collected vast amounts of DNA samples and other biometric data. Why did Beijing want all that biometric data? The New York Times has revealed at least one compelling reason: “Chinese scientists are trying to find a way to use a DNA sample to create an image of a person’s face.”

dna

Photo credit: SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

As part of the Orwellian project of surveillance and control of Muslim ethnic minorities like Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Chinese authorities have systematically collected vast amounts of DNA samples and other biometric data. Witness accounts of this collection process indicate that it is coercive.

Why did Beijing want all that biometric data? 

The New York Times has revealed at least one compelling reason: “Chinese scientists are trying to find a way to use a DNA sample to create an image of a person’s face.” Here are the details on the early stages of the futuristic technology:

  • The technology “can produce rough pictures good enough only to narrow a manhunt or perhaps eliminate suspects.” Similar technology is being developed “in the United States and elsewhere.”    
  • In China, labs run by China’s Ministry of Public Security are running some of the research. Some of the work is based on DNA samples collected from Uyghurs, probably without their consent.  
  • “Respected institutions in Europe” have funded work by at least two Chinese scientists working with the Ministry of Public Security. “International scientific journals have published their findings without examining the origin of the DNA used in the studies or vetting the ethical questions raised by collecting such samples in Xinjiang.”

This revelation led to a backlash in the scientific community, the NYT reported: “Two publishers of prestigious scientific journals, Springer Nature and Wiley, said…they would re-evaluate papers they previously published on Tibetans, Uighurs and other minority groups.”