The Interior Ministry is preparing a draft version of a bill that would require foreigners to provide the government with their biometric identification information to receive a visa or residency permit. If they refuse to provide the data, they could be refused such permits. The bill would be an amendment to the present Entry to Israel Law.
The ministry also wants the law to include a provision that would allow an authorized government official to use force, if necessary, to obtain such information from a foreign citizen who refuses to provide it. “Reasonable force” could be used after providing a warning of the intention to use force, proposes the draft version of the amendment. Force may be used only when the person “is over age 14, resides in Israel illegally or is suspected of residing illegally, or whose entry into Israel has been denied according to law.”
For years, Israel has been gathering biometric data from foreign citizens in Israel, including asylum seekers. Then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz approved collecting biometric data from foreigners 15 years ago, and in 2010 the Population and Immigration Authority had biometric data on about 210,000 foreigners in its data base, according to a response to a Freedom of Information Law request. This included foreigners who came to work in Israel as well as others residing in Israel illegally. At the time, Mazuz said this would not be a violation of privacy, but because of the sensitivity of the matter, it should be authorized explicitly by law – which has yet to be done.
The Interior Ministry wrote similar draft bills in 2004 and 2012, which never advanced. Now the ministry wants to try again, partly in order to allow the police and security forces access to the information – and to act on Mazuz’s recommendation.
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The Ministry’s population authority already has the authority to collect and store this information today, states the draft, but adds that legislative changes are necessary in order to legalize the use of this information by the Israeli Police, security authorities and public institutions. Even though the Interior Ministry already has much biometric data today, the amendment states: “In general, the State of Israel does not have a great deal of information on foreign nationals entering [the country] and residing here, as opposed to the routinely available information concerning the country’s citizens and residents. This is particularly true concerning some 64,000 infiltrators, who arrived in Israel, in general, without any identifying documents. Therefore, the lack biometric information creates an inherent difficult in reliable, precise and rapid identification of foreigners in Israel.”
The database would include personal and administrative details about the person’s identity, fingerprints and a faceprint. The information would allow authorities to identify foreigners, remove those residing illegally, prevent the entry of people using a false identity who had previously been denied entry or deported; while making life easier for those foreigners residing in Israeli legally to prove their identity, states the ministry. It would also help in solving crimes and preventing terrorism. The police would have access to the information that would make it easier to investigate crimes in which foreigners are involved, as well as identify and locate missing people.
Since 2004, Israel has operated a biometric system for registering and identifying foreign workers. It includes a database of fingerprints and pictures of the faces of foreigners in Israel. The information is collected when the foreigner enters Israel and is a condition for entry. It can also be collected if a person residing in Israel illegally is arrested, and asylum seekers are required to provide this data when they submit an asylum request.
The Population and Immigration Authority said the amendment does not state that biometric details will be taken from all foreigners, but just that it allows the Interior Minster to make the granting of a visa or residency permit conditional on providing such information.
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The police would only be allowed to pass on information from the database to prosecutors, the courts, security services, the National Center for Forensic Medicine and police outside of Israel when it is necessary – and these bodies would not be allowed to pass on the information to anyone else.
Oded Feller, an attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said that while a public campaign is underway against the law for gathering biometric information on Israeli citizens – which has been strongly criticized for violating privacy– the authorities have been gathering such data from foreign citizens for years without their agreement.
Now, when they are attempting to legalize these arrangements, “they have asked for draconian powers, such as conditioning the granting of [legal residency] status on providing biometric data, even collecting it by force and sharing it with other authorities,” said Feller, adding that the fact that a person is a foreign citizen does not give others the right to violate their human rights in such a critical manner.