PM’s Adviser Admits Israeli Biometric Data Could Leak, but Dismisses Worries

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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

A legal adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office acknowledged on Tuesday that the possibility of information leaking from the country’s experimental biometric population database couldn’t be flatly ruled out, but said it was not a pressing concern.

“Nobody will sign a security certificate that the database will never leak,” Naama Ben-Zvi, the attorney in charge of biometric applications for the Prime Minister’s Office, told the Knesset committee responsible for oversight of the database. “But there’s no concrete concern that the database will leak. It’s a question of a risk management, what you want to achieve versus what you’re risking.”

The database’s trial period was supposed to finish at the end of this month, having already been extended once before by nine months. Last month, Interior Minister Arye Dery said he would ask the Knesset to extend the trial period by another nine months, but he has yet to submit an official request to the Knesset on this issue.

Ben-Zvi noted that a professional committee set up to oversee the biometric database experiment had recommended against extending the trial period. The committee’s view, she said, is that the database is essential, but that it should only include low-resolution facial photographs, and not fingerprints.

In its recommendation, issued last month, the professional committee said it opposed including fingerprints “in light of the existing risks in managing this sensitive database over time and the need to choose the alternative which constitutes an invasion of privacy that isn’t greater than necessary, that includes the minimum amount of information needed to achieve a satisfactory result.”

MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi), who chairs the Knesset panel overseeing the project, criticized the fact that a week before the trial period is due to end, Dery has yet to submit an official request to extend it.

“It’s sad,” he said. “He goes to the media and says things, goes everywhere, and only the body that’s supposed to discuss it and decide isn’t given anything.”

But MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) said he objected to a last-minute extension. “This shows contempt for members of Knesset,” he said. “They always wait until the last minute. In the end, 61 MKs who don’t understand what they’re raising their hands for at all will raise their hands in the plenum, and it will pass. There’s no reason to invest additional tens of millions of shekels in extending the trial.”

Opponents of the project argue that storing sensitive biometric data in a database is dangerous, and that various alternatives haven’t been properly considered.

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