Israel Moves to Require Foreigners to Provide Biometric Data for IDs

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A COVID-19 vaccination site for foreign nationals, in south Tel Aviv, in February.
A COVID-19 vaccination site for foreign nationals, in south Tel Aviv, in February.Credit: Hadas Parush

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill on Sunday that would allow the government to force foreign nationals to provide biometric data for their identity documents if they are in the country without permit or suspected of being so.

In theory, the committee’s approval binds all the parties in the governing coalition to support the bill, thereby increasing the chances of it passing.

The bill would also allow residency visas to be conditioned on providing biometric data, including fingerprints. Moreover, a foreigner who refuses to provide biometric data upon entering the country would not be allowed in.

If foreigners don’t agree to provide biometric data, the bill would allow authorized officials – including Interior Ministry officials, police officers, prison wardens and soldiers – to use “reasonable force” to collect it, but only in the case of people who “appear to be over age 14” and are either here illegally or suspected of being here illegally.

The bill says that biometric identity data must be taken from people who are here illegally or were denied entry “to prevent their return to Israel under a different identity.” The data is also needed “to prevent the entry of people who shouldn’t be allowed to enter.”

The bill would also regulate an existing database of biometric data collected from foreigners over the last 18 years, ever since then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz first authorized such data to be collected from foreigners. By 10 years ago, the Immigration Authority’s database already had biometric data for around 210,000 foreign nationals who had either come here legally to work or were present in Israel illegally.

In addition, the bill would authorize the police and the Shin Bet security service to request biometric data from the Interior Ministry for specific purposes, including investigating crimes in which foreign nationals are suspects, locating missing persons and preventing criminals from entering the country. It would also allow police to send a copy of the database to foreign law enforcement agencies, on the grounds that this is necessary for overseas agencies to be able to contend with “criminals in Israel and abroad.”

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Sunday that the bill would enable oversight of foreigners seeking to enter Israel for illegitimate purposes. “The biometric law for foreigners is an important law, and with its approval, Israel will join the list of Western countries – first and foremost the United States – that demand biometric identification from foreigners when they enter the country.”

Attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said the Immigration Authority has been collecting and storing biometric data from foreigners for years “without any authorization in law, despite the violation of privacy entailed.” While this issue should be regulated in legislation, he continued, there’s no justification for granting “draconian powers like conditioning the exercise of the right to family life or asylum on handing over such details, taking biometric data by force or sharing this data with other agencies.”

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