U.S. Senator expresses concerns to Thermo Fisher Scientific over DNA sequencer sales to China

February 12, 2018 - 

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio has asked Thermo Fisher Scientific to explain its role as supplier of DNA sequencing equipment to police in China’s Xinjiang region in support of a controversial biometric collection and surveillance program.

Rubio, who is the chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China wrote a letter to Marc Casper, CEO of the Massachusetts-based company. In it he refers to findings by Radio Free Asia about repression of ethnic Uyghurs in the region, and a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that Thermo Fisher Scientific had supplied equipment for use there. Rubio also noted the muted response from the company to HRW inquiries, in which it stated that it does not disclose information about customers, and cannot monitor the use of its products. The company did not respond to a follow up letter from HRW.

“The Chinese government’s mandatory data-banking of the entire population’s biodata, including DNA, has understandably raised alarm bells among rights advocates given that China lacks the kinds of legal safeguards that other countries implement to manage their DNA databases,” Rubio wrote in the letter. “These concerns are even more acute when placed in the context of the already repressive policies that exist in China, and specifically in ethnic minority regions like Xinjiang.”

Rubio asked the company in the letter to provide details of its relationship with Chinese government bodies and of discussions regarding the intended use of its equipment, whether the company has taken any steps to ensure its products are not misused, and to elaborate on the “industry standard best practices” it referred to in its response to HRW’s first letter.

The Executive Director of the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, Omer Kanat, told Radio Free Asia that he is encouraged by Rubio’s engagement with the issue, and called for “an effort to make sure that there is accountability for American companies who provide the means for the Chinese government to engage in rights violations.”

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About Chris Burt

Chris Burt is a writer and contributor to Biometric Update. He has also written nonfiction about information technology, dramatic arts, sports culture, and fantasy basketball, as well as fiction about a doomed astronaut. He lives in Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter @AFakeChrisBurt."