Israeli Court Blocks Police Access to Biometric Database

Judge reverses his original decision allowing police to obtain information from the database to help identify an Israeli killed in a car accident abroad

Interior Minister Arye Dery gives his fingerprint for his new biometric ID card, Tel Aviv, June 30, 2016.
\ Moti Milrod

An Israeli court has rescinded its own decision to force the biometric database of the country's citizens to share information with the police after being convinced that it is not yet legally authorized to do so.

Judge Ron Sokol, the deputy president of the Haifa District Court, changed his ruling on Thursday after being informed that the section of the law allowing such information sharing isn’t yet in force, because the Knesset hasn’t yet approved the necessary regulations. He asked the police to inform him by noon on Sunday whether they will withdraw their request for the data in light of that fact.

This is apparently the first time police have sought to obtain information from the database.

On Monday, Sokol had acceded to the police’s request and ordered that they be given information from the database to help them confirm the identity of an Israeli killed in a traffic accident in Bulgaria. In that ruling, Sokol noted that Article 17 of the law authorizing the database allows the courts to order the database to share information with the police.

But the law states explicitly that this provision will take effect only after the Knesset approves the necessary regulations. And those regulations haven’t even been submitted to the Knesset yet, since the government is still drafting them.

Consequently, the Biometric Database Authority refused to hand over the data, telling the court it isn’t yet authorized to share such data with any agency except the Population, Immigration and Border Authority.

Instead, the agency suggested that the dead man’s family bring his body back to Israel and either ask it to compare his fingerprints with those stored in the database or do DNA testing to confirm his identity. Neither of those options requires releasing data from the database, so there’s no legal obstacle to them.

The deceased man, Wissam Telhami, is an engineer from Isfiya who was in Bulgaria for work purposes. He was driving to Varna when he hit a truck parked by the side of the highway and crashed.

“We know that the aforementioned [Telhami] got a biometric identity card and a biometric passport, for which he submitted his fingerprints,” the Haifa police wrote in their request to the court. “Therefore, we request that the Interior Ministry give us the deceased’s fingerprints for comparison purposes.”