Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have begun taking saliva samples from bus passengers arriving in Foshan, sparking concerns that the government may be rolling out a nationwide DNA database.
Officers from the Danzao police station in Foshan were taking mouth swabs from passengers passing through the local bus terminal on Monday after checking their ID, sources told RFA.
Photos taken of the process have led to concerns among social media users that police would be using the samples to build a nationwide DNA database.
An employee who answered the phone at the bus terminal confirmed the social media reports when contacted by RFA on Wednesday.
"Security checks are very strict right now, and everyone has to get checked," the member of staff said. "They are checking whether you have taken drugs or not. The checks are being carried out by the Danzao police bureau."
An officer who answered the phone at the Danzao police bureau also confirmed that the samples were being collected.
"Yes, that is happening," the officer said. "We have arranged for police to go out and collect samples of saliva from anyone going to the bus station as a way of preventing unexpected incidents."
"Everyone will have to do this, because we have had orders to do it," he said. "We have to collect samples from these people to prevent incidents such as robbery from occurring."
The police were also spotted storing the samples in a saliva collection card similar to those made by companies specializing in the collection and storage of DNA samples.
An agent for biotech firm Shandong Heze confirmed that public security bureaus across the country are among the largest customers for such equipment.
"Saliva collection cards are used by the police, and are generally entered into a database," the agent said.
The saliva collection policy in Danzao comes after authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang rolled out a massive DNA and biodata collection program, in a bid to monitor every aspect of people's lives.
U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao said the practice could now be rolled out across the rest of the country.
"What we have here is the rolling out of the Xinjiang model to the entire country," Teng said. "It is a trend that's known as high-tech totalitarianism."
"They are using various forms of contemporary digital technology and facial recognition technology to implement comprehensive and ubiquitous social control. It's an enhanced version of 1984," he said in a reference to George Orwell's dystopian novel about a surveillance state under the watchful eye of Big Brother.
"Collecting such data within a system like China's is entirely aimed at tightening social control," he said.
Teng called on the international community to condemn or sanction international companies and local Chinese companies that provide digital surveillance technology to the Chinese government.
'Free health care'
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in December 2018 that Chinese authorities in Xinjiang are collecting DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types of all residents in the region between the age of 12 and 65.
"DNA and blood types are being collected through a free annual physical exams program called Physicals for All," the group said in a report.
"The mandatory databanking of a whole population’s biodata, including DNA, is a gross violation of international human rights norms, and it’s even more disturbing if it is done surreptitiously, under the guise of a free health care program," HRW China director Sophie Richardson said at the time.
The biometric collection scheme is detailed in an official document called “Regional Working Guidelines on the Accurate Registration and Verification of Population," dated July 2, 2017, it said.
"Chinese authorities seem to think they can achieve ‘social stability’
by placing people under a microscope, but these abusive programs are more likely to deepen hostility towards the government," said Richardson. "Beijing should immediately stop these programs, and destroy all data gathered without full, informed consent."
DNA information is highly sensitive and can facilitate a wide array of abuses if it is collected or shared non-consensually, according to HRW, which called any compelled collection or use by the government "a serious intrusion on the right to privacy."
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.