Chinese authorities are in the process of a mass collection of biometric data from the residents of a region with a high population of the Uyghur minority group, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. While 92 percent of China’s residents are considered ethnic Hans, almost half of the residents of the Xinjiang region are Uyghurs, and most of those individuals are Muslims. Over the course of the past year, these residents have been subject to mandatory biometric collection as part of a “Physicals for All” program. Authorities are collecting fingerprint and iris biometrics, as well as DNA samples, for all Xinjiang residents between the ages of 12 and 65.
The collection of biometric information appears to be mandatory, and there is no indication that its subjects are aware their information is being used in a larger “Population Registration Program”. It may be an expansion of an initiative undertaken last year in Xinjian’s Ili prefecture in which regional police demanded that residents provide fingerprint and voice biometrics as well as DNA data, and submit to 3D body scans, as part of an application process for travel documents. Police have confiscated residents’ passports, and special permission must be sought to get them back.
While biometric technology, and particularly facial recognition, is used widely in China, Xinjiang’s Population Registration Program appears to represent a uniquely intensive application of such technology for the purposes of surveillance and political repression.