Amid opposition & hacking fears, National Biometric Database is launched

Knesset approves use of national biometric identification database for a trial period of 2 years.

Volunteers can submit their face scans & fingerprints to receive “smart” passports and/or identification cards

Knesset opposition leader Yachimovich warns: All databases can be hacked.

By Gideon Allon


The Knesset approved the launch of a national biometric identification system on Wednesday, which will be tested at the beginning of 2013. The decision to begin using the system was made by a joint committee comprising the Science and Technology Committee, Internal Affairs and Environment Committee and Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

The biometric database trial is launched. Only volunteers will have their fingerprints registered. – Photo: Getty Images

The trial period will span two years, during which a national biometric database will be established and “smart” identification cards distributed to citizens who agree to provide biometric data such as fingerprints and digital photos of their faces.

The law outlines parameters by which to gauge the necessity of the database, and requires that other methods of identification be tested as well. The Knesset will receive periodic reports detailing the progress of the database trial.

The biometric database was created as the result of a bill passed in the Knesset in 2009. Its purpose is to help identify citizens during a large disaster, aid in the identification of criminals and crime scene investigations and as a tool to combat terrorism. Interior Ministry officials, soldiers and law enforcement personnel will be able to compare biometric data in identification cards or travel documents with biometric data obtained from the person they are questioning.

The law stipulates that the encrypted nationwide biometric database not include any information that may help hackers identify the owners of individual biometric data, and every transaction with the database is documented. In addition, police and other security officials will be able to extract data from the files only if they possess a legal warrant to do so, and the punishment for unlawful access of the database will be up to seven years in prison.

The initial draft of the law has since been revised due to opposition from rights groups, who said the database would violate individual privacy rights and would endanger people if it got into the wrong hands. Those who oppose the system have also suggested that minors under 16 years of age would not be included in the database for now, except for those who have requested passports.

Population, Immigration and Border Authority head Amnon Ben Ami said, “This is one of our most important national projects and we are ready to launch it as scheduled.”

Shelly Yachimovich – Screenshot/Channel8

Early this year, after a computer hacking incident in which Saudi hackers accessed and leaked online thousands of Israelis’ credit card information — including that of Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich — Yachimovich called the database law a “dark law” and said, “Like many other Israelis, I felt more than ever that the protection of our privacy is extremely lax. The worst problem is not the hacked credit card database but rather the government’s establishment of a biometric database — an undemocratic database — that will create an enormous pool of fingerprints, facial photos, and countless other personal details on innocent citizens.”

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