Orwellian Ministry: Give Us Your Blood!
Just when you thought that China’s Total Surveillance over its own people—a form of social control that has no rival in sheer scope and ambition other than maybe the fictional totalitarian superstate of Oceania—Beijing takes it a step further.
According to The New York Times today, the Communist Party is collecting blood samples from tens of millions of Chinese boys and men in hopes of having enough of a sample to be able to connect and genetically track the entire population through DNA. One massive DNA database, that allows authorities to extrapolate the genetic familial networks of its entire population with one prick of the finger.
This “pinprick” is happening all over the provinces, in small towns and schools, where boys, hardly aware of what is happening, are required to line up one-by-one to give blood. More:
The project is a major escalation of China’s efforts to use genetics to control its people, which had been focused on tracking ethnic minorities and other, more targeted groups. It would add to a growing, sophisticated surveillance net that the police are deploying across the country, one that increasingly includes advanced cameras, facial recognition systems and artificial intelligence.
The police say they need the database to catch criminals and that donors consent to handing over their DNA. Some officials within China, as well as human rights groups outside its borders, warn that a national DNA database could invade privacy and tempt officials to punish the relatives of dissidents and activists. Rights activists argue that the collection is being done without consent because citizens living in an authoritarian state have virtually no right to refuse.
The paper based much of its reporting on documents obtained from The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which the NYT also had access to. Much of it has been easy to find, because, “local officials often publicly announce the results of their sampling.” According to ASPI, the effort is being run by the national police, the Ministry of Public Security, and aims to collect between 35 and 70 million samples, which would represent some 5 to 10 percent of the population. They do not need to sample every male, according to the Times, “because one person’s DNA sample can unlock the genetic identity of male relatives” and therefore entire family networks:
China already holds the world’s largest trove of genetic material, totaling 80 million profiles, according to state media. But earlier DNA gathering efforts were often more focused. Officials targeted criminal suspects or groups they considered potentially destabilizing, like migrant workers in certain neighborhoods. The police have also gathered DNA from ethnic minority groups like the Uighurs as a way to tighten the Communist Party’s control over them.
The effort to compile a national male database broadens those efforts, said Emile Dirks, an author of the report from the Australian institute and a Ph.D. candidate in the department of political science at the University of Toronto. “We are seeing the expansion of those models to the rest of China in an aggressive way that I don’t think we’ve seen before,” Mr. Dirks said.
As I had written for TAC just last year, the Chinese government has used the excuse of “domestic security” to impose escalating authoritarian measures on their Muslim minority population in Xinjiang province—everything from electronic monitoring through cell phones, to installing party agents in every home to personally track behavior and communications. We know upwards of a million Uighurs have been sent to prison camps for brutal conditioning. Given what we know, it is no surprise that Beijing would collect Uighur DNA. But taking it to the next level—formulating a national database of genetic markers for every single citizen, in a country where social behavior is already so tightly watched and controlled through total surveillance and a massive social credit system, well, even Orwell himself may be impressed.
One Chinese rights activists recalled when provincial police tried to get his blood:
They knocked on his hotel room door soon after he checked in. Mr. Li said that when he refused to go to the police station, they hit him with rubber batons and dragged him there. But when they asked for a DNA sample, Mr. Li said, he stood fast, fearing that the Hangzhou police could use it against him.
“In some cases, your blood and saliva, which was collected in advance, can be put at the crime scene later,” Mr. Li said. “You’re not there, but your DNA might be on the scene. This is what I’m worried about — the possibility of being framed.”
They got their pinprick eventually, only after he was arrested and thrown in jail for “disrupting public order,” a “charge that the authorities use against many dissidents.”
We might be aghast at the lengths this Big Brother will go, but we need to be clear-eyed, too. One of the firms that sold the Chinese Communist Party was in right here in the U.S.A.
Thermo Fisher of Massachusetts “has sold DNA testing kits to police agencies in at least nine counties and cities for establishing a ‘male ancestry inspection system,’ or a male DNA database, according to corporate bidding documents found by (ASPI author Emile) Dirks and verified by The Times.”
The company has defended its work. “We are proud to be a part of the many positive ways in which DNA identification has been applied, from tracking down criminals to stopping human trafficking and freeing the unjustly accused,” it added. According to the paper, Thermo’s collaboration with the Ministry of Public Safety has involved tailoring the test kits to look for specific genetic markers sought by the police, and “to distinguish between China’s ethnic groups, including Uighurs and Tibetans.”
Such surveillance measures here in the U.S. may be a long, long way away, but we know that American companies have rationalized their work with Beijing, on the government’s terms, for years, whether that be internet censorship or AI surveillance, including facial recognition. Don’t think they won’t be ready to turn these tools on their own people here, when asked, if the price is right.