Following Criticism, Netanyahu Defers Vote on Biometric Database Law

Bill would require identity cards to be 'smart', containing electronic chip with the holder's fingerprints and facial scan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday postponed a vote on a controversial law that would set up a biometric database with information about every citizen of the country, following heavy criticism.

Netanyahu decided to impede the vote, which reached second and third readings and was expected to be approved by the Knesset on Monday, making this the third time the vote on the legislation has been postponed in the last few weeks.

The database would be used to issue "smart" identity cards.

The bill would require all Israeli identity cards and passports to be "smart" documents, containing an electronic chip with the holder's fingerprints and facial scan. That information would then be stored in a biometric database.

Opponents argue that such a database constitutes a real threat to Israelis' welfare, as the data could too easily pass into the wrong hands. For instance, criminals might obtain an innocent person's biometric data, and somehow plant them at a crime scene to cover their own tracks, or enemy states might obtain the data and use them to identify Israeli agents operating on their soil.

This argument is based in part on the latest State Comptroller's Report, which found that items included in the extremely sensitive Population Registry database - which includes every Israeli's ID number, address, and other personal and family information - were leaked to the Internet because the Interior Ministry had not protected it properly. Nor were police ever able to finger the culprits in this activity.

Under such circumstances, say opponents of the bill, what grounds are there for believing the government would do a better job of protecting the biometric database? Moreover, they charge, such a database would turn the government into "Big Brother."