China Turned to Yale Scientist in Surveillance Campaign

February 22, 2019

The New York Times reported that Chinese authorities turned to a Yale University geneticist to help them build a system of genetic surveillance targeting Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group that has been subject to an intense government campaign of oppression and surveillance.

The Times reported that Chinese police used genetic material from people around the world provided by Kenneth Kidd, a Yale geneticist, to make comparisons with DNA samples collected from Uighurs.

Chinese government researchers also contributed data on 2,143 Uighurs to an online search platform run by Kidd that contains DNA data from more than 700 populations around the world -- an action one medical ethicist said could violate scientific norms of informed consent, because it is not clear whether the Uighurs gave their DNA samples to Chinese authorities willingly.

Kidd told the Times he had been unaware of how his material and expertise were being used. Kidd said questions about informed consent would fall to the Chinese researchers: “I would assume they had appropriate informed consent on the samples,” he was quoted as saying, “though I must say what I’ve been hearing in the news recently about the treatment of the Uighurs raises concerns.”

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