This post has been updated to include information from the New York Times' article.
Because of state surveillance and human rights concerns, Thermo Fisher Scientific says it will no longer sell equipment in the Xinjiang region of China, the Wall Street Journal reports. It adds that the firm has also said it would stop servicing machines already there.
The Journal previously reported that China has collected DNA samples from a number of individuals in the area, which is a Muslim-majority region, and elsewhere in China to build a vast database of its citizens and to enable broad surveillance. This collection, it notes, includes samples from individuals who are not suspected of a crime.
According to a 2017 Human Rights Watch report, much of this DNA collection was coerced, conducted under the pretext of free healthcare, and has been in conjunction with the gathering of other biometric data like iris scans and photos, raising concerns about how the data might be used. The human rights group also reported Thermo sold some sequencers to the Xinjiang police. This caught the attention of members of the US Congress, with Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) calling on the firm in 2018 to ensure that its machines were not being misused, the Journal says.
According to the New York Times, six Ministry of Public Service researchers noted in 2013 that Thermo Fisher's Applied Biosystems brand as well as other firms enabled them to analyze DNA samples from Han, Uighur, and Tibetan indiviudals.
Thermo says it decision to stop supporting its customers in the area was consistent with its ethics code, the Journal now reports. "We recognize the importance of considering how our products and services are used — or may be used — by our customers," the company says in a statement, according to the Journal.