After years of public controversy, the Interior Ministry is planning to run a pilot of the biometric database in Rishon Lezion on Monday afternoon, the ministry announced Sunday.

The pilot is set to take place from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Interior Ministry building in Rishon Lezion, where citizens coming to renew or receive a new identification card will have the option of signing up for a new biometric version or the traditional blue identification card.

Civil rights groups and data security campaigners have long criticized the database, saying that it would provide an unprecedented platform for running surveillance on private citizens, as well as a threat of security breaches and data leaks.

Former Likud MK Michael Eitan said in response to the news that the biometric pilot is “a battle for the image of the State of Israel. Will we be a free country which protects the rights of its citizens, an enlightened state, or one that leads the world in surveillance of its own citizens?” In July 2012, the High Court of Justice held a hearing during which the Interior Ministry agreed to review the biometric cards proposal, following a petition by civil rights groups and data security campaigners.

Petitioners, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the Movement for Digital Rights, said the plan had intentionally left out alternatives to the database, adding that the ministry should examine if there are other feasible options that would not be subject to the same threats of data leaks or information theft.

The Knesset first approved the biometric database program in 2009, and in June 2011 the Knesset Science and Technology Committee approved the ordinances needed to establish the database.

Responding to the announcement, ACRI said that it “objects to the biometric database because it is not a necessary aspect of a ‘smart’ identification system – even one that includes biometric data – but rather a repository of citizens’ physiological data, vulnerable to both government abuse and outside infiltration [as recent developments have shown].”

An ACRI spokesman added that “in fact the Interior Ministry has delayed the issuance of smart IDs since 2007 in order to combine the process with the creation of a biometric database.”

While ACRI took some credit for having pushed the state to make improvements over the years from a security perspective, it said the program still “strikes a serious blow to citizens’ privacy and completely undermines the balance of power between the state and its citizens.”

ACRI said that despite being called “voluntary,” the program “actually pressures citizens by only issuing smart ID cards to those who opt into the biometric pilot program.”

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