How close are Dutch biometrics researchers to China’s Uyghur oppression?
Working with researchers linked to organizations involved with concentration camps in China is not a good look, as three labs in the Netherlands are finding out.
A story by non-profit investigative publication Follow The Money and news service RTL Nieuws alleges that Chinese researchers in the Netherlands have for years worked with Dutch counterparts on ways to identify people based on DNA and face biometrics.
The article, covered here in English by NL Times, alleges that biometrics researchers are working to be able to predict “body characteristics based on a DNA profile and facial recognition techniques” and to map families.
The concern is that regardless of how Dutch scientists use the resulting data (perhaps to identify a murderer), China’s autocratic state will use it to persecute minorities including Uyghurs, a large indigenous Muslim group.
Beijing reportedly wants Uyghurs washed of any non-Chinese cultural and political traits, and allegedly has imprisoned one million of them in enormous, remote concentration camps for indoctrination.
China’s intense, nationwide biometrics-recognition surveillance network has in no small way been spurred by Beijing’s paranoia about destabilization that the Uyghurs could cause. The network has been used in Xinjiang, the sparsely populated region that is home to most the group.
The NL Times article states that Chinese researchers working in the Netherlands have direct and indirect links to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. Citing the original reporting, the story alleges that some of them “are paid or employed by the Chinese police.”
Studies in which they have participated reportedly also involved Erasmus Medical Centre, Leiden University and the Netherlands Forensic Institute.
Seven studies involved Uyghurs’ DNA, and three of them were based on blood drawn by the national police’s forensic unit.
There have been reports for years that when Beijing was not just imprisoning people and taking their personal biometric data, government workers have traveled Xinjiang under the guise of medical professionals taking blood and saliva samples for healthcare related reasons.
Follow The Money reported last month that two published studies were retracted when journal editors could not be convinced after the fact that DNA collected for the work had been volunteered by Uyghurs.
The healthcare and forensics organizations named in the report have denied working closely — or at all — with the Chinese biometrics researchers in question.
Executives at Erasmus, on the other hand, reportedly said they saw no ethical problems because the data uncovered cannot be used to identify Uyghurs. They only work with Chinese university professors, who apparently are not influenced by politicians the way police are.
If Dutch officials and executives are somewhat soft on distancing themselves from China’s actions, they are not alone. The Security Industry Association has taken heat for pulling punches. Both genetics research journals and other universities have previously been drawn into similar controversies.