10,000 Israelis Get Biometric IDs in First Month of Pilot

Privacy advocates say there’s no need for identity database.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

In the month since July 9, when the state launched its biometric identification program in a handful of Israeli cities, 10,000 biometric passports and identity cards have been issued. The Population, Immigration and Border Authority says 40 percent of the people who applied for identity cards at participating branches requested the “smart” versions, which require providing fingerprints and photos, while 60 percent asked for the regular IDs.

As for passports, it seems that most applicants preferred to receive the regular kind. The agency says that many applicants opted for the old-school passports because, with biometric passports taking longer to process, they wanted to make sure they had them in time for their vacations.

At the request of Haaretz, the population authority provided figures from Rishon Letzion and Ashdod, the first branches to join the biometric pilot. In the month since the program began, the Rishon office issued 1,588 regular and 1,180 biometric identity cards, (57 percent and 43 percent, respectively).

The picture was similar in Ashdod, where 1,725 regular and 1,408 biometric IDs (55 percent and 45 percent, respectively) were issued.

Of the passports issued in Rishon during the month, 3,302 (80 percent) were regular and only 811 (20 percent) biometric. In Ashdod the gap was smaller, with 2,132 regular passports (63 percent) and 1,240 (37 percent) biometric.

While Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar praised the results of the pilot program so far, saying they demonstrated that Israelis trusted the government to protect their personal data and understood the importance of keeping up with global technological progress, not everyone was so sanguine.

According to attorney Jonathan Klinger, of the Digital Rights Movement, the preliminary figures show that most people do not want biometric IDs and passports.

“After great pressure by ministry staff including enticements of various kinds, [the outcome] shows that Israelis understand the risk and don’t want a biometric database that will invade their privacy, their security and the tranquility of their lives. We call on Israelis to continue to decline to be part of the experiment and on MKs to revoke the law immediately.”

Over the course of the month, Ashdod and Rishon Letzion were gradually joined by the population and immigration authority branches in Petah Tikva, Acre, Hadera, Tiberias, Holon, Rehovot, Ashkelon, Ramle and Be’er Sheva. Within a number of weeks, the agency says, the biometric documents will be available at all 28 offices around the country.

The two-year pilot program is voluntary. The biometric information that is submitted for the new IDs and passports, consisting of digitally scanned fingerprints and facial images, are stored in an encoded form in a dedicated, secure, database.

Opponents of the biometric database say the “regular” IDs and passports could be made more secure and harder to forge without requiring the storage of personal biometric data. Proponents argue that only the biometric system can prevent identity theft carried out by impersonating another individual in order to obtain an ID in that person’s name.

Interior Minister Gideon Saar introducing the new biometric IDs.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Using a biometric ID scanner.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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