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China goes beyond face recognition to take DNA swabs of Hong Kong protesters



The Chinese government seems intent on demonstrating the darkest fears people have about biometric surveillance. Bloomberg is reporting on DNA confiscation in Hong Kong for formerly minor political offenses.

Citing local sources including a Hong Kong lawyer and a legislator, the business news publisher says that new laws imposed by the authoritarian government in Beijing have been used to forcibly collect DNA samples and search people’s homes.

Six men and four women were arrested recently and charged with inciting or abetting subversion or secession, according to Bloomberg reporting. They still could be packed up and tried in China, and possibly imprisoned.

Ranging in ages from 15 to 67, the 10 were plucked from large crowds of protesters demanding that China honor its written promise to ensure Hong Kong remains a semi-autonomous region within the autocratically run nation.

Bloomberg says that as many as six of those arrested were holding pro-democracy and pro-independence printed publications. While Beijing has always loathed such sentiments, promotion of them had been tolerated.

The publisher has kept a close eye on the year-old massive protests because Hong Kong is a tiny enclave on China’s South Pacific shore with a storied history of lucrative business (especially banking) and trade linking East and West.

It was a long-time British colony that the United Kingdom returned to China in 1997 for concessions including a pledge to govern the overwhelmingly ethnic Chinese population under a now-famous one country, two systems concept for 50 years.

But also, Beijing has used Hong Kong almost as a laboratory for the introduction of biometric surveillance to an affluent bourgeois society. For the most part, China’s cameras and AI software have focused on its mostly middle class citizens and political and religious minorities.

China’s dictatorial Communist Party has deployed what are arguably the world’s most daring and gapless facial recognition networks. Whether wired on poles or wirelessly attached to police helmets, the peering eyes are a reminder of the central government’s stifling control.

With few exceptions, all of the machine vision and networking hardware, algorithms, apps and wireless infrastructure brought to bear in Hong Kong (and elsewhere in China) have been developed on the mainland by companies carefully nurtured by the government.

DNA swabs in Hong Kong could be a backstop for this phalanx of biometric systems, weaponized to identify whole families related to political dissenters.

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