Authority Records 1,000 Attempts to Deceive Israeli Biometric Database

Citizens may have been attempting to get forged identity documents, says database authority.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A demonstration of the biometric database's workings at the system's unveiling ceremony. Rishon Letzion, June 8, 2013.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

There have been 999 possible attempts by citizens to get forged identity cards or passports by deceiving the biometric database over the last three years, says the authority that manages the biometric database.

According to the data, 662 samples submitted by residents to the population bureaus had the same fingerprint submitted for both the right and left hands. In a report authority officials submitted to the Knesset, they wrote this could indicate someone who in the future would try to request another document under a different identity by submitting fingerprints from his other hand.

In 337 cases the biometric information submitted by those requesting documents did not match biometric data those same applicants already had in the database. This, officials say, could point to an attempt at identity theft.

Since the database was set up in 2013, the authority refused to issue identifying documents in 1,544 instances due to biometric data irregularities. In some cases the requests included biometric data of one person that was very similar to someone who already appeared in the database; in several cases it turned out that the two were identical twins. In other cases the fingerprint did not register properly or the collection of biometric samples was faulty.

This information was submitted as part of the semiannual reports that the biometric database management authority must provide the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee by law. The reports have no information on how these suspicions of fraud were dealt with, nor is it clear how many of these irregularities were actual attempted fraud.

The report does not address the possibility that criminals managed to fool the system and obtain forged documents. The report does note that according to police assessments there are thousands of criminals using forged identity cards of the older type. More than 160,000 citizens report their ID cards lost or stolen each year.

So far 1,022,934 residents have joined the biometric database through June 2016 and received “smart” identity cards or passports. During the first half of 2016, 167,574 new people joined. Surprisingly, teenagers getting their first identity card are least likely to ask for a biometric ID card compared to other age groups, with only 12.5 percent of young people agreeing. Twenty-three percent of Arabs and 32 percent of Jews applying for new identity cards requested biometric ones, while Arabs were slightly more likely than Jews to ask for biometric passports (35 percent compared to 32 percent).

One problem with the biometric documents is that applicants must come to the population bureau twice – once to request it and again to pick it up. About a quarter of the documents ordered have yet to be picked up by the public, apparently because people are deterred by the long lines. The Interior Ministry is now working to change the procedures and enable the sensitive documents to be sent by courier.

These latest reports are expected to be the basis for an Interior Ministry request to make the controversial database permanent. The pilot project is scheduled to end in December, and Knesset Law Committee chairman MK Nissan Slomiansky has made it clear that he will not extend the pilot any further, but will demand a decision as to whether to establish a permanent database and obligate all citizens to submit photos and fingerprints to it.

“There is no chance that we will debate the question of setting up a permanent database until we are sure that it is as secure as possible,” Slomiansky said.