Bill Would Set Up Biometric Database

The cabinet yesterday voted to support a bill proposing a biometric database containing information about all citizens.

The database will contain a photo of an individual as well as prints of his or her two index fingers; these will also be stored on a chip that will be embedded in new identity cards to be distributed to citizens.

Explanatory remarks accompanying the proposed law note that the United States and the European Union do not have such a database, while Kuwait, Yemen and Pakistan do. They also explain that Israel has in recent years faced a major problem of forged identity cards and passports. This allows "illegal immigration, criminal and economic offenses, and activities that harm state security."

According to police statistics, a forged ID card can be bought for NIS 30,000.

The bill proposes that the Interior Ministry be in charge of the proposed database. A special authority at the Interior Ministry will operate the database, whose personnel will undergo security checks on their backgrounds. The police would be able to make use of the database, but will not be allowed direct access to it.

The bill envisions a penalty of up to 10 years' imprisonment for wrongful accessing or use of information from the database.

The head of the public security minister's staff, Brig. Gen. (res.) Udi Shalvi, said: "It is essential for the State of Israel to have [identity] documents that practically cannot be forged."

A number of organizations have come out strongly against the biometric database. The Public Council for the Protection of Privacy argues that the database could cause major damage to basic civil rights. It proposes the distribution of biometric ID cards that would allow verification that they belongs to those bearing them, without establishment of a central database. The council says use of the database to counter criminal activity turns all of Israel's citizens into potential criminals.

Attorney Avner Pinchuk of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel wrote Justice Ministry Daniel Friedmann: "Not for no reason did no Western democracy dare establish such a dangerous database." Pinchuk noted that the database of the Population Administration can be found on the Web and there is a danger that this would also happen to the biometric database.

The chairman of the Israel Bar Association's committee for the protection of privacy, attorney Dan Hay, warns against the possibility that a "rotten apple" at the Interior Ministry could disseminate the biometric information illegally.

In an article published in TheMarker, legal scholar Dr. Omer Teneh explained that the collection of data such as fingerprints and facial features is especially dangerous because it can be used for surveillance of people. He also warned that mistakes in the biometric system might wrongly blacklist people and create "Kafkaesque nightmares of people trying to prove 'they are not themselves.'"

In December 2007, the Knesset passed a law mandating the establishment of the most extensive phone-subscriber database in the West.