Knesset approves extension of biometric database pilot

Criticism of database mentions exposing citizens to a new level of invasion of their privacy rights.

March 29, 2016 21:15
2 minute read.
A person uses a sensor for biometric identification on a smartphone in Berlin

A person uses a sensor for biometric identification on a smartphone in Berlin. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Knesset on Tuesday voted 41-32 in favor of a nine-month extension of the current biometric database pilot program despite signs that support for the initiative, even within the coalition, has eroded somewhat.

The vote ratified a request by Interior Minister Arye Deri on Sunday for an extension until December 31, 2016 to better learn the issues since he is relatively new in the job.

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The reduced support is a result of a representative of the program admitting last week that the database is not leak-proof, an issue coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) noted bothered him as well and could lead him to eventually vote down the program.

Last week, the Movement for Digital Rights slammed the admission by Naama Ben Zvi Riblis, a lawyer for the Biometric Database Authority, as proof that validated its attack on the entire new biometric database idea as exposing citizens to a new level of invasion of their privacy rights.

The NGO’s lawyer, Yehonatan Kleigar, stated, “At this meeting they put the truth on the table for the first time” as the authority “said on the record that the working assumption was that the entire biometric database would be hacked… and now we are not the only ones who are saying this… so why do we need this? Why take the risk?” Asked about the admission of how easily the database could be hacked, Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky’s spokesman said he did not remember the authority saying that, but, surprisingly, if they did say that, the chairman still “had no position” on whether this should impact moving forward.

Committee spokesman Shimon Malka said the authority making the admission of “no one will sign an insurance form that the database will never be hacked” was correct, while suggesting that the NGO had taken the statement a little bit further than what was said.

The initial pilot program started in June 2013 and expired in June 2015, but former interior minister Silvan Shalom had already extended the program nine months, with that extension due to expire soon.

Slomiansky summarized the views at the hearing as mostly agreeing that the biometric cards were positive developments, but with a debate about whether to continue the database.

Ben Zvi Riblis, in contrast, said the database should be continued, but that possibly it would only contain facial recognition data and not fingerprint data.

The phenomenon of forging false identity cards led the Knesset to authorize the pilot for new identity cards in 2009 and to authorize managing the database in August 2011.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this story.

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