Biometric identification documents called both 'vital' and 'disastrous'

Bill requiring identification through fingerprints, facial or retinal identification being prepared for second and third readings.

Tempers flared in the Knesset Science and Technology Committee on Tuesday over a controversial government proposal to introduce biometric identity cards and passports aimed at preventing theft and counterfeiting. The government bill requiring biometric identification of individuals through digitized fingerprints and facial or retinal identification is being prepared in the committee for its second and third readings in the plenum. Committee chairman MK Meir Sheetrit, who was previously interior minister, said that 188,000 Israeli passports have been stolen, lost and sold, and this poses a security threat. Having biometric identification will confirm the identity of the person carrying the documents, he said. He promised that the bill includes protection necessary for preventing identity abuse. Interior Ministry officials Arye Bar and Ya'acov Ganot said that 64 countries around the world have successfully introduced biometric passports. But Government Services Minister Michael Eitan was furious. He compared the idea to the Chernobyl disaster in that "it could take a decade to understand the negative implications" of biometric documents. He charged the information would be abused and compromise privacy because it would necessitate setting up a data bank of every citizen's personal information. His views were supported by MKs Yuli Tamir and Nitzan Horowitz, as well as representatives of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Malchiel Ballas, a deputy attorney general involved in preparing the bill, conceded that there is concern that data could "leak out" of the state database via employees who have access to it, and that information could even reach terrorist and criminal groups. Sheetrit concluded that many more sessions would be convened to discuss the implications of biometric identification and invited "anyone who wishes to voice their opinions" to appear before the committee.