No other democracy has yet introduced biometric identity cards, which Israel recently decided to do, and the only nondemocracy to have done so is Hong Kong, according to a study by the Knesset's research center.

One reason for this reluctance is that biometric identity cards require establishing a centralized database with biometric data on every citizen and legal resident of the country.

Biometric passports, in contrast, are becoming more common in the West. However because people can choose whether or not to obtain a passport, which is not true of ID cards, this is considered less problematic from the perspective of privacy.

The study was prepared in advance of last October's Knesset debate on a bill to introduce biometric ID cards.

The Knesset passed it into law a few days before dissolving for the elections.

The law requires the state to take the fingerprints of both index fingers from every resident of the country, on top of the standard facial photographs.

Then interior minister Meir Sheetrit told the Knesset that current Israeli ID cards are very easily forged, and the law would make such forgeries harder.

Biometric cards would assist in "uprooting crime, foiling terror attacks and identifying victims," he said.

He also noted that between 2003 and 2007, some 1,500 people requested a new identity card four times or more because theirs had been lost or stolen, and 12 people requested new cards more than 10 times.

Human rights groups fiercely oppose the law. "It's not for nothing that no Western democracy has dared to institute such a dangerous database," said attorney

Avner Pinchuk of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, adding that he feared the data would leak to the Internet.

However, the study found, a few European countries are now considering biometric IDs.

With regard to passports, the International Civil Aviation Organization has ordered all of its 190 member states to issue machine-readable IDs that include information about facial features by 2010, and 53 countries that account for some 80 percent of all passports worldwide had already done so by the end of last year.

The European Union has ordered all of its member states to introduce biometric passports that include fingerprints and facial features by this May.

The United States grants visa waivers only to countries that issue such passports.