Starting Thursday, Israel to Issue Only Biometric Passports and IDs

Within a decade whole population expected to be using biometric documents

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Minister Dery's fingerprint being scanned for Israel's biometric database, June, 2016.
Interior Minister Arye Dery's fingerprint being scanned for Israel's biometric database, June, 2016.Credit: Moti Milrod

Monday is the last day that the Interior Ministry will issue non-biometric passports and identity cards. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the offices are closed for the Shavuot holiday and as of Thursday, June 1 only biometric documents will be issued.

Anyone applying to receive, renew or replace a passport or identity card will be required to be photographed at the Population, Immigration and Border Authority bureaus and their high-resolution photograph will be stored in the country’s biometric database. Applicants will also be given the option of storing the prints of their two index fingers in the database; if they refuse, the document they receive will be valid for only five years instead of 10.

Documents issued over the past few years without biometric data are valid for 10 years, meaning that anyone who gets an identity card or passport issued Monday will be able to use them for 10 years. While Israeli law does not require citizens to have passports, it does state that “Every resident over 16 years of age must always carry an identity card,” so that within a decade, unless there are legislative changes, the entire population will be carrying biometric documents.

Before issuing a biometric document the population authority will conduct an interview to confirm the applicant’s identity, to ensure that he isn’t pretending to be someone else. He will then be photographed at the bureau, and his facial features will be stored in the biometric database, while a non-biometric photo will be stored in population authority computers.

There will also be a scan done of the prints of the applicant’s two index fingers. These prints will also be compared with the database, to ensure that the applicant has no other registered identity. If the applicant refuses to keep his prints on file in the central database, they will be erased after this examination. A mail carrier will bring the document to the applicant’s home within 10 business days after his identity is confirmed.

Biometric passport control system at Ben-Gurion International Airport.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The law requires the Interior Ministry to explain that keeping one’s fingerprints on file is optional. It also limits the biometric information that can be collected from minors. No one under 12 will have their fingerprints scanned, while children under 14 will not undergo questioning to confirm their identities, but will have to come to the bureau with a parent. Minors 16 and over can store fingerprints in the database with parental permission.

Anyone who received biometric documents during the pilot period, which began four years ago, can, as of September, ask that his fingerprints be erased from the central database, but he will have to return his passport and will be issued a new one valid for only five years.

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