China has been trying to develop technology that can map human faces using a DNA sample. Given the communist nation’s mass detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, some experts worry the technology could be used against these vulnerable populations. The New York Times reported:
The technology, which is also being developed in the United States and elsewhere, is in the early stages of development and can produce rough pictures good enough only to narrow a manhunt or perhaps eliminate suspects. But given the crackdown in Xinjiang, experts on ethics in science worry that China is building a tool that could be used to justify and intensify racial profiling and other state discrimination against Uighurs.
In the long term, experts say, it may even be possible for the Communist government to feed images produced from a DNA sample into the mass surveillance and facial recognition systems that it is building, tightening its grip on society by improving its ability to track dissidents and protesters as well as criminals.
The Times went on to report that some of the research on this technology is taken place in China’s government institutions that receive funding from “respected institutions in Europe.” Scientific journals have published the findings without questioning the origin of the reports or the ethics involved therein, the Times reported. The outlet tried to speak to people in Tumxuk, but “police prevented reporters from The New York Times from interviewing Tumxuk residents, making verifying consent impossible.”
“Many residents had vanished in any case. On the road to one of the internment camps, an entire neighborhood had been bulldozed into rubble,” the outlet added.
Police in America have used the face-mapping technology to identify murder victims and suspects, yet it’s still unclear whether the images made from DNA samples are accurate.
The bigger issue in China, however, is how they will use the technology. China already has a mass surveillance system and social credit system that uses technology to spy on and reward or punish citizens for any number of behaviors. If the country brings DNA into the mix — especially if that technology isn’t very accurate — it could end up punishing innocent people.
And that says nothing of what the technology could do if weaponized against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjinag, where the Chinese Communist Party has systematically imprisoned more than one million people because they are of the “wrong” religion. From the Times:
With the ability to reconstruct faces, the Chinese police would have yet another genetic tool for social control. The authorities have already gathered millions of DNA samples in Xinjiang. They have also collected data from the hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and members of other minority groups locked up in detention camps in Xinjiang as part of a campaign to stop terrorism. Chinese officials have depicted the camps as benign facilities that offer vocational training, though documents describe prisonlike conditions, while testimonies from many who have been inside cite overcrowding and torture.
If used for limited, specific needs, the technology could be beneficial, as with trying to find a suspect using DNA when their DNA is not already on file, but it would not be a slam dunk and should probably not be admissible in court (since the technology is about as accurate as polygraphs at this point). China, however, has already show willingness to exploit technology to control its citizens.