Biometric technology
Biometric technology, in this case in use in Switzerland. Photo by Reuters
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Tess Scheflan
Isaac Amit Photo by Tess Scheflan
David Vaknin
Miriam Naor, deputy Supreme Court president and Judicial Ethics Committee head. Photo by David Vaknin

The High Court of Justice questioned on Monday the necessity of a pilot program to test a "harmful" biometric database, but rejected a petition arguing the project is unconstitutional.

The Interior Ministry has agreed to release a new directive to regulate the implementation of a law calling on the ministry to issue "smart" identity cards and passports with microchips containing the fingerprints and photographs of Israeli residents. The directive would include clear criteria to determine the success or failure of the pilot project.

Under the law, the information stored in the microchips would be recorded in a database that critics say poses privacy and security risks, especially if the information is leaked or the database is hacked. Proponents say the documents would make forgery and identification theft much more difficult.

The ministry will also examine possible alternatives to creating a biometric database and will commission an external examination by an independent observer to determine whether such a database is necessary.

Justices Miriam Naor, Isaac Amit and Hanan Melcer said the database is an "extreme" and "harmful" measure. Naor said it was unclear why the government wants to maintain a database given that the smart identification cards can be issued without one.

After the government agreed to reexamine the project, the High Court dismissed the petition, saying it was premature because the pilot program had yet to be launched. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which filed the petition, is entitled to bring the matter to court again in the future.

"In effect, the state accepted the position of the petitioners and the justices that the pilot program directive is illegal and leaves no room to examine the necessity of the biometric database," said ACRI lawyer Avner Pinchuk. "The intention of the Interior Ministry to create such a database before dealing with this essential flaw is hasty and belligerent... the court criticized the ministry's conduct and reserved our right to voice our arguments against the database and the pilot program. If, in the future, the ministry again acts in an illegal manner, we reserve the right to petition the courts."