Biometric surveillance in China’s governance

Ms Ausma Bernot1

1Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

In 2018, Xi Jinping posited a concept of “comprehensive national security”, that is reliant on social stability and social governance. In order to operationalise these broad political concepts, the Chinese Party-state has expanded and merged systems of surveillance. Biometric surveillance has been one of the key elements of that expansion, increasing the visibility of the body through digitisation techniques. China’s government now runs the largest National DNA Database, National Y DNA Database, Missing Children and Person’s Database, and the older fingerprint database. Merging the boundaries of state-corporate policing, the country has also established and experienced with facial, voice recognition and iris databases, among others. Some of these databases are experimental, while others have been included in larger surveillance networks of national public security, such as Skynet and Police Cloud. These initiatives of biometric surveillance are digitising individual bodies and making them transparent, both to the state and private corporations. In Foucauldian terms, biometric surveillance is increasing the biopower of the biometric data-owners. My doctoral research explores the actors and processes behind these trends of biometric surveillance, as well as the technological, social, and ideological conditions that allow for them to occur. By presenting the “history of the present” as a historical pattern of state and corporate behaviour, I explain how biometric surveillance has been allowed to grow and how it is now incorporated into the broader mechanisms of social governance. In doing so, I also address the social harms that may be created in that process, such as coercive control of ethnic minorities.


Ausma Bernot is a PhD Candidate at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University. Being fluent in Mandarin and building on existing networks in China, Ausma has excellent capabilities to access key information on both technology and governance in the country. Her current research interests focus on the effects that the merging of infotech and biotech triggers in the fields of governance, surveillance, policing, and public safety. Ausma’s doctoral research explores the dynamic interaction between surveillance technologies and social context and questions the multifaceted conditions that allow for the totalisation of surveillance in China.


Dec 08 2021