A person uses a sensor for biometric identification on a smartphone in Berlin.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An NGO asked the High Court of Justice to block the state from a public campaign it kicked off Sunday to convince the general public to sign up for smart card identification and the country’s biometric database.
The Digital Rights Movement asserted that the campaign is designed to fool the public into signing up for all aspects of the biometric database, even though the public has the right to refuse giving over their fingerprints.
The Digital Rights Movement filed the request to the High Court as part of its broader battle to get the biometric database law struck as an unconstitutional infringement of privacy rights.
The law passed in February and went into effect June 1.
Advocates of the law say its final version reflects a number of compromises made to address privacy concerns that made it the center point of a grand battle for years.
While the Digital Rights Movement has praised the compromises, it still petitioned the High Court to declare the database an unconstitutional violation of privacy rights, such that smart-cards can continue, but with no database.
The High Court is due to hear arguments on the law’s constitutionality in February 2018.
Until now, to get a “smart” biometric card, a person was required to give the national biometric database access to personal facial recognition and fingerprinting data.
The final version of the law makes it voluntary to enter fingerprint data into the database.
The law also includes an option to delete fingerprint data for anyone who already gave their permission to access that data during the biometric database’s pilot program, which was in effect until now.
Fingerprints for those under the age of 16 will not be included in the database and court approval is needed before fingerprints in the database can be used for law enforcement purposes.
The government’s cyber chief will be entrusted with reviewing the database every 18 months, instead of every two years, to see if there is an alternative to fingerprinting for identification.
From the start, there has been heated debate about privacy rights and whether a database exposes citizens to new kinds of identity and personal information theft, in an age when cyber hacking seems unstoppable.
Those objecting will still have their fingerprints and facial recognition picture taken, but it would only be connected to their smart-card, not placed in the database. As a penalty of sorts, they would need to renew their ID cards every five years instead of every 10.
The country suffered from forged identity cards for years. That eventually led to the Knesset authorizing a pilot program of the biometric database in 2009 as a way to roll back false identity cards.
New identity cards linked to the biometric database contained far more personal information, such as the fingerprint data and a facial scan, to make it more difficult to falsify or steal cards.