State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman reported that Israel saw over 400 attempts to illegally cross its border, including from Ben-Gurion Airport, by use of falsified ID cards during the first half of 2022.
Englman noted that many of these attempts come from the West Bank and Gaza and could involve plots to perpetrate terrorist attacks. This makes them a high-level national security threat, and not merely a criminal issue.Further, he said that the 400 cases are only the known incidents and that there are probably many more where the perpetrators were not caught.
The report noted these issues in connection with the fact that over a decade after smart-ID cards were introduced and several years after they became mandatory, around 45% of the country still uses the old ID cards, which are easier to falsify.
In addition, some 2.9 million people, or around 37% of the population, will have their ID cards expire in the coming years, and Englman said the Interior Ministry and Population, Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) are completely unprepared to handle such a wave of simultaneous expirations.
Put differently, he said that the old IDs are creating national security and criminal problems and that the state is not prepared to properly and efficiently switch over the population to smart facial-recognition IDs. If in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic,The 75% of citizens had IDs which had not expired, as of May 2022 that percentage had dropped to 63%.
The police told the comptroller that, as long as the old non-smart IDs exist, they expect large amounts of attempts to violate border security to continue.
Englman said that PIBA needs significantly more manpower and ID manufacturing resources.
In 2020, then Israel National Cyber Directorate chief Yigal Unna said that the biometric database being used by the Interior Ministry was not equipped or sufficiently secure to handle the records it was tasked with processing. He also listed other databases that could handle the task properly.
As of late 2022, the Interior Ministry had not made significant progress since switching over to a new, more appropriate database format. Estimates are that any switchover would only happen in late 2024 at the earliest.
The use of fingerprints
Another issue that the comptroller zoned in on was that PIBA, despite being told in 2020 to delete all fingerprints it had gathered from citizens during a pilot program to manage IDs using fingerprints, in late 2022 was still holding onto the fingerprint records.
According to Englman, PIBA had raised the question of keeping the fingerprints in order to identify victims in the case of a mass-death event. However, no decision has been made about whether this is a valid use of the fingerprints records. When those prints were taken, it was with the understanding that eventually the whole country would switch over to IDs with fingerprints – something which has not yet transpired.
In fact, many of the NGOs which helped sink the fingerprints records initiative had objected specifically because they said that the state would later abuse or misuse records beyond the originally authorized reasons for their use.PIBA responded to the report saying, “all of the issues raised, including with respect to crossing into Israel from Ben-Gurion Airport, are known and being dealt with.” It added that it was building a new plan to carry out improved oversight at all border crossings throughout the country.
PIBA also said it is about to launch a new program to enable the public to make far more appointments for renewing expiring ID cards, along with increasing digital-related services on the issue.
Whereas the comptroller emphasized the 45% of citizens without smart IDs, PIBA focused on the idea that, within only a few years of launching the mandatory smart ID program in 2017, 55% of citizens have received such IDs