Israel's Biometric Database to Begin Operating in Two Weeks

The database was supposed to have started working in November 2011, but was delayed due to longer-than-expected legislative proceedings, including an appeal to High Court.

Israel's pilot biometric database will begin operations in two weeks, Deputy Interior Minister Fania Kirshenbaum announced Monday.

The database was supposed to have started working in November 2011, but its commencement was delayed due to longer-than-expected legislative proceedings, an appeal to the High Court of Justice by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (which was turned down) and a labor dispute between the Population and Immigration Authority and the Finance Ministry. This dispute was resolved two weeks ago, removing the last obstacle for implementation of the project.

The Population Authority issued a statement saying that there was no timetable as of yet, and that due to the complexity of this initiative, schedules might still change. The biometric database is a computerized compilation of data, collecting and centralizing fingerprints and facial features of all citizens of Israel, as part of a process of issuing new ‘smart’ identification documents. The digital chip in the new ‘smart’ I.D.s will contain biometric data to enable the bearer to be identified according to physical traits, fingerprints and facial features.

The pilot will continue for two years, with a possible extension, after which it will be decided whether to make it permanent. During the trial run, anyone renewing their I.D. or a passport will be asked by Interior Ministry officials whether they want a new ‘smart’ biometric document. People will have the choice of opting out.

The touted advantage of this project is that the ‘smart’ documents will facilitate pre-flight processing at many airports around the world. The Association for Civil Rights oppose the initiative, claiming that its purpose is to compile a huge police database. They argue that the centralized biometric database is not essential for producing ‘smart’ or biometric documents. The project, according to them, is an infringement on privacy, and leaked data could cause irreversible damage.