Chinese authorities in the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang Province, are collecting DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types of all residents in the region between the age of 12 and 65, Human Rights Watch said today.
This campaign significantly expands authorities’ collection of biodata beyond previous government efforts in the region, which only required all passport applicants in Xinjiang to supply biometrics.
The region is home to over 11 million Uighurs, a Muslim Turkic minority, and is occasionally hit by bouts of violence and Muslim terrorism.
Part of the collection is being done through government-provided medical checkups, and it is unclear if patients are aware the exam is also designed to transmit biometric data to the police.
Although the checks are officially voluntary, one Uighur said local cadres “had demanded that they must participate in the physicals”. A story in a local newspaper encouraged officials to “work hard to convince them to participate”.
Nearly 19 million people have participated in the medical exams, dubbed Physicals for All, in 2017, according to state news agency Xinhua. For people determined to be “focus personnel” – a euphemism for those the government views as dangerous – their data will be collected regardless of age.
Biometric data collection also applies to people originally from Xinjiang who have moved to other parts of China, where they will be required to submit their information locally.
China says it faces a serious threat from Muslim terrorists in this far Western Xinjiang region. Beijing accuses separatists among the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority there of stirring up tensions with the ethnic Han Chinese majority and plotting terror attacks elsewhere in China.