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    China's Massive Ongoing DNA Collection Effort

    China network style country map

    DNA data and genetic information in China are being collected from men across the country. Reportedly, this is designed to help solve crimes, but researchers and onlookers are expressing concern that this precious and intimate data will be misused.  

    In fact, over the course of several years, police and other Chinese authorities have gathered DNA samples from millions of males. The problem is, many of these individuals aren’t suspected of having ever even carried out any crime. 

    Moreover, critics are expressing concern about how this DNA is being used, and shining light on the fact that most families don’t understand the full implications of having their genetic information analyzed. 

    What's Going On?

    In 2017, Chinese state media announced a government initiative to create a national forensic DNA database. Since then, police have collected DNA samples from individuals, mainly school-aged boys and men, from all over the country. It’s suspected that this initiative aims to collect genetic information from 10% of China’s male population, which amounts to a whopping 70 million people. 

    Institutions and organizations in other countries have caught wind of what is happening in China with the government’s intention to construct a DNA database, and many are ringing the alarm bells. The scale of the initiative and the age of the boys from whom the samples are being taken are raising serious red flags.

    Once the data is collected, these individuals and their data will become a powerful tool for Chinese authorities. Genetic information can help authorities and police to track down not only the individual who gave their information, but their relatives as well. 

    While DNA may be certainly helpful in resolving criminal cases, the reason behind the tracking along with the freedom authorities can exercise over the data is concerning. 

    DNA And Privacy In China

    It is important to note that the government in China actually hasn’t acknowledged the existence of this DNA gathering program. That hasn’t stopped foreign media, organizations, and other institutions from gathering data about the program. This data points to the program’s truly large and extensive scale and includes official government orders for DNA kits and other related testing services. 

    While DNA companies around the world hold important user data and use that data for a variety of purposes, the Chinese government’s genetic database for people with no criminal record is quite unprecedented. Most likely, the goal is to deepen the government’s social control over its citizens in a new and never before seen manner. 

    While individuals can benefit from important and helpful insights into their health along with gaining valuable ancestry-based clues from DNA analysis, that doesn’t seem to be the point of this particular program. 

    What DNA Is Being Collected

    DNA collection can come in a variety of forms. The data being gathered in China specifically looks at DNA related to the y-chromosome or the patrilineal line. So why would China harvest its citizens’ DNA? The implications of studying Y-DNA is that it connects all male relatives on a specific side of the family. 

    That means that while the DNA was gathered from one individual when the DNA is then connected to a family tree, it can actually identify and connect many more family members to that person. 

    Legality Of DNA Collection

    The legality surrounding DNA and privacy concerns is a worldwide issue. Given DNA tests have rapidly increased in popularity, concerns regarding the companies use of information maintained in their databases have grown. 

    In countries like the United States, legislation has been passed to help protect user rights. For example, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) passed in the US in 2008 forbids insurance agencies from using health insights from data analysis in their decisions regarding policies. 

    How To Protect Your Data

    DNA data and privacy laws will be likely to be subject to where you live and where the lab is located. In Europe, for example, data must adhere to GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) guidelines. In the United States, companies must clearly state what they intend to do with a user’s personal and genetic information. 

    Be sure to read the testing company’s privacy policy carefully and completely. Understand who they might give your information to and if after testing, you can request to have your information deleted. Knowing your options and how to handle your data can be empowering and ensure you remain protected. 

    Conclusion

    Having concerns regarding privacy doesn’t need to stop you from taking a DNA test. Insights can be gained from testing that can dramatically improve your health outlook or even connect you to family members you didn't know existed.  So long as you make careful decisions along the way, your DNA journey is sure to be a fruitful one.