All citizens will have to gradually move to biometric identification, Interior Minister Gilad Erdan said Monday, submitting a report on the system’s pilot run to the cabinet and Knesset.
“Smart biometric documentation that cannot be counterfeited, together with use of the biometric data will allow a full security and defense package for Israeli citizens’ identities and will balance our responsibility to ensure their security with our requirement to defend their privacy,” Erdan stated.
The biometric database pilot period lasted two years, during which over 630,000 Israelis volunteered to receive biometric passports and identification cards.
The report, submitted to cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, reviewed whether smart ID is necessary, biometric databases around the world, alternative plans, possibilities of identity theft and the damage it could cause, how to secure the database, and more.
According to the Interior Ministry, the database only has the minimum biometric information necessary to authenticate someone’s identity, meaning a photograph and two fingerprints, along with a serial number, but without any biographic or demographic information. In addition, the ministry said the database is not connected in any way to other systems, and has the highest and most advanced level of security.
The Biometric Database Management Authority, which is under the Interior Ministry’s authority, found that damage caused by identity theft and related fraud costs hundreds of millions of shekels per year.
In addition, Israel is the OECD country with the most counterfeited passports.
The report also brought examples of terrorists using stolen identities, including the Park Hotel attack in Netanya in 2002, in which 29 people were killed.
The Interior Ministry said that in a separate, confidential report, which the press cannot access, the Counterterrorism Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office collected the stances of the security and law enforcement offices and wrote a “positive and unambiguous recommendation as to the necessity of a biometric database.” In addition, it said that smart IDs without a biometric database can increase crimes involving identity theft.
In the report, the Biometric Database Management Authority recommended that all citizens get smart IDs that are in the database within several years.
“We have to fight terrorist organizations’ and criminals’ attempts to falsify Israeli citizens’ identities,” Erdan stated.
“The project of moving to smart documentation together with a database is a project of national importance, because the state must give its citizens a high level of personal security and protect their privacy.”
If the biometric database becomes mandatory, Israel will “join the club of advanced countries that use their database to offer e-government services based on reliable documentation and the citizen’s identity,” Erdan added.
As for opposition to the database claiming it harms privacy and that the information cannot be protected, the Interior Ministry said that most of the complaints are not relevant today.
“Opposition to the database’s existence is not based on facts and relevant proof but on ideology,” the ministry stated.
“Photos of the faces of most Israeli citizens can be found in existing databases, some run by the government, like the Transportation Ministry and the database of IDF conscripts, and some are public and open, like social networks.”
Still, MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said the proposal to make joining the biometric database mandatory harms citizens’ right to privacy, and proposed, together with three other cosponsors from her party, a bill to get rid of the database.
“It’s not clear what’s so urgent to Erdan to make this decision while the government hasn’t been formed yet,” Zandberg said, accusing the report of insufficiently examining alternatives to the database.
Zandberg added: “The existing law recognizes the dangers of the database, which is why there was a voluntary pilot….Moving to a statutory situation is hasty and dangerous.”
The Movement for Digital Rights said that the Biometric Database Management Authority’s examination of alternatives was biased, as it wanted to ensure its continued existence. In addition, it said that the amount of identity theft mentioned in the report is inflated.
“The report said that the biometric database is necessary because it is the only solution that meets all the requirements they set for themselves,” the organization’s legal adviser, Jonathan Klinger, said.
The NGO also expressed concern that Erdan is trying to sneak the new policy through during an interim government and while the Knesset is in recess, and called for MKs to vote against it.
In response to the Biometric Database Management Authority’s statement that those who oppose the database are motivated by ideology and not facts, Klinger said: “It is too bad that the Biometric Authority, which lies to government offices and compiles reports that contradict objective information by the Knesset’s Research and Information Center, chooses to accuse public activists who are volunteering.”