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Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have begun collecting extensive biometric data from residents aged 12 to 65 as part of an increasingly advanced state surveillance apparatus.
Government notices mandate police officers and cadres to collect and record pictures, fingerprints, blood type, DNA and iris scans in six counties and prefectures through specially-designed mobile apps and a health check-up programme offered to all Xinjiang residents.
Officials from each of the six areas, which together hold about one-third of Xinjiang’s 22m residents, confirmed the authenticity of the notices but all declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Xinjiang’s Aksu prefectural government said she had been instructed not to discuss such issues over the phone.
The collection is fuelling concerns among Uighur residents that the DNA data will be used to match the organs of suspected criminals who may face execution with potential recipients, said Darren Byler, a researcher at the University of Washington who specialises in Xinjiang.
“This is hard to prove but there is a widespread fear among Uighurs that this is what the data will ultimately be used for,” said Mr Byler.
Other places such as Shandong and Beijing have experimented with limited DNA collection to find missing children or catch tax fraudsters, but Xinjiang is the first region to extensively roll out such policies.
“[DNA collection] may be something the state wants to try out under the guise of the Xinjiang state of emergency before introducing across China,” said Mr Byler.
Following fatal ethnic riots in 2009, Xinjiang authorities have stepped up security measures, most of which disproportionately target Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic minority who have chafed against Communist party rule.
Chen Quanguo, the region’s party secretary, has spearheaded an acceleration of security measures since taking office last year, constructing thousands of new police stations and heightening surveillance of electronic communications.
The DNA collection measures are part of a region-wide registration system launched in February and rolled out first in southern Xinjiang, where Uighur populations are concentrated.
Meanwhile, all Xinjiang residents of all ethnicities must also submit blood samples for DNA tests as of late last year when replacing or renewing identification cards issued to every registered Chinese citizen, according to public security officials in Xinjiang’s Karamay city.
“If one had applied two years ago, one would not have had to do a DNA test. This is a new regional policy,” said an officer at the Xinxing Road police station in Urumqi.
All Chinese provinces require citizens to submit fingerprints and a headshot to renew or obtain an identification card but have never required a DNA blood test.
However, government notices from Uighur-dominant Aksu and Tacheng prefectures and Korla city contain provisions allowing police to collect DNA from “priority people and those who require attention” regardless of whether they fall within the 12-65 age bracket or are renewing identification documents.
“What is creepy here is the Chinese government can test out mass surveillance [in Xinjiang] because it’s able to go really far without any form of scrutiny or resistance,” said Maya Wang, a researcher at activist group Human Rights Watch, which this week released a paper detailing the region’s DNA collection practices.
Follow Emily Feng on Twitter @emilyzfeng