Israeli Group Protests State-Run Biometric Database

August 7, 2008 - 9:41 AM
An Israeli civil rights group is upset about a proposed law that would make Israel the first Western-style democracy to gather biometric information on all of its citizens in a central database.
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) – An Israeli civil rights group is upset about a proposed law that would make Israel the first Western-style democracy to gather biometric information on all of its citizens in a central database. Critics call it an invasion of privacy.
 
Earlier this week, the Israeli cabinet authorized the establishment of a biometric database, which would contain the fingerprints and facial recognition features of all residents and citizens of Israel. Before becoming law, it must be approved by the Knesset.
 
“The establishment of a database containing such sensitive data about individuals sets a dangerous precedent and constitutes a massive breach of privacy,” said Avner Pinchuk, an attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
 
“In approving the bill, the Cabinet has crossed a red line, which could give the State access to more and more personal data as the technology develops and as various players find more uses for the database and the information within it,” Pinchuk said in a statement.
 
The database would be maintained by the Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for the population registry and issuing identity cards and passports. It was the Ministry of Interior that suggested the idea.
 
Arie Bar, general manager of the Ministry of Interior, said the biometric system would make it impossible to forge identity cards, which are issued to all Israeli citizens.
 
There are some 300,000 people (out of population of about 7 million) with forged IDs or without IDs at all, Bar told CNSNews.com.
 
Israeli identity cards include the bearer’s name, birth date, parents’ names, country of birth, marital status and religion (or nationality). A supplementary slip includes the cardholder’s address and names and birth dates of his or her children.
 
Bar argued that he did not see it as an invasion of privacy for fingerprints and facial characteristics to be added to the information the MoI already has.
 
As for the possibility of misuse or theft of the information, Bar said the only people who would be authorized to enter the system would be the Interior Ministry, the police and the security forces.
 
Police and security services would be allowed to use the information only as a way of verifying identities, he said. A top-level security body would be created to protect the system, he said.
 
Describing the system as “Orwellian,” ACRI spokeswoman Melanie Takefman said if criminals did manage to enter the database, it would make it easier for them to steal identities and do more damage because they would have access to intimate personal details. She said there are other ways for the Ministry of Interior to prevent identity theft.
 
“This kind of thing [database] exists in totalitarian regimes,” Takefman told CNSNews.com.
 
According to Takefman, Israel already has passed a law that allows police to collect information on every citizen and resident of Israel in a central database, including addresses and cell phone numbers.  ACRI has petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn what it calls the “Big Brother” law.
 
ACRI now is urging Israeli lawmakers to vote against the Interior Ministry’s proposed central database.
 
But time is running out. Bar said Israel aims to implement the new system by February or March of 2009 and have the identity cards of all its citizens replaced with the biometric versions within three years.