Think tank slams plan for biometric database

If implemented, Interior Ministry will convert Israelis’ identity cards into smart cards with digital chips storing biometric data.

The government is about to begin compiling a biometric database of all Israelis that will put their personal data in the hands of at least 10,000 government employees, according to a position paper released Sunday by the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.
“The plan to establish a central biometric database, along with the use of biometric identity cards, will make Israel the only Western democracy to store biometric information about its own citizens,” economist Diana Zaks wrote. “Israel will be in the company of countries such as Ethiopia, Indonesia, Yemen and Pakistan.”
Founded in 2003, JIMS is a nonprofit economic-policy think tank whose declared mission is to promote social progress in Israel through economic freedom and individual liberty.
Its position paper, which analyses the Biometric Law passed by the Knesset in 2009, warns that if implemented, the Interior Ministry will be tasked with converting Israelis’ identity cards into smart cards with digital chips storing biometric data, and at the same time the government will establish a central database with each individual’s personal biometric information.
According to the paper, the government is about to embark on a two-year pilot program with voluntary registration, before the program becomes mandatory for all citizens.
The paper argues that the program presents a host of dangers, including leakage of data, possible use by terrorists, criminal penetration and identity theft, increase in police powers and likely pressure on the government to make the data available to local or international businesses or to pharmaceutical companies for research.
“Considering the marginal benefits from establishing a biometric database, the alternative means of achieving its aims, its high cost and the many dangers involved, the government of Israel could do well to consider whether such a database is necessary, and Israelis could do well to express themselves concerning this intended invasion of their privacy and the dangers ahead,” Zaks wrote.