You Can Decline to Be in Israel's Biometric Database – but You’ll Pay More

Those who provide fingerprints will be issued a 10-year passport, while others will only receive one valid for five years

Passengers walk to passport control at Ben-Gurion International Airport, July 9, 2017.
Eyal Toueg

People who refuse to let their fingerprints be stored in the Israel's biometric database will have to pay at least 50 percent more for a passport over the course of a decade, under regulations approved by the Knesset and signed by Interior Minister Arye Dery on Sunday.

The cost of a biometric passport issued between March and October will be 265 shekels ($75) at Interior Ministry offices or 245 shekels over the internet. Between November and February, the fee will be only 155 shekels, to encourage people to get their passports during the quieter winter months rather than the busy summer months.

People who agree to provide their fingerprints will get a 10-year passport. But those who don’t will get a passport for only five years, and will have to pay another 130 shekels to renew it when the five years are up. Over the course of the decade, they will pay an extra 50 percent over the higher summer rate.

At a Knesset Finance Committee meeting two weeks ago, officials from the interior and finance ministries had argued that people who refuse to give their fingerprints should be forced to pay the full price of a passport every five years. But committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) objected to this.

“You’re taking a person and telling him, ‘You’re being fined because you won’t provide fingerprints,’ when the law doesn’t require him to provide fingerprints,” Gafni said. He added that he doubted a double fee would survive a High Court of Justice challenge.

Attorney Irit Weisblum of the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority denied that the extra fee was a fine.

“The payment is for issuing a passport,” she said. “Issuing a passport doesn’t cost even half a shekel less when it’s issued for five years.”

But in the end, the committee approved a compromise proposed by Gafni – that the renewal fee be half the original issuance fee.

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), who opposed the biometric database, charged that the five-year expiration date and the renewal fee were all part of a government effort to force people to join the database against their will.

During the database’s first month in operation, only 15 percent of the people applying for new passports or identity cards refused to let their fingerprints be stored. The highest refusal rate, of 30 percent, was in the ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak, while the lowest, just three percent, was in the northern town of Kiryat Shmona.