Biometric ID bill comes under fire

Bill aims to establish national data bank with fingerprints, facial lines of all citizens, residents.

teudat zeut israeli id (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
teudat zeut israeli id
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel came out on Sunday in opposition to the government bill that aims to establish a national biometric data bank with the fingerprints and facial lines of all citizens and residents to nearly eliminate the risk of counterfeit identity cards. The bill, initiated by the Interior and Defense Ministries, was approved by the cabinet earlier in the day. ACRI claimed that such a database would be "a dangerous step" because of the sensitivity of such information, and that there was no use of such a technology anywhere else among Western democracies, even among those that issue chip-embedded "smart" identity cards. Still, the Interior Security Ministry brushed off those concerns, saying the step was necessary for the security of Israel's citizens. "Any information in any database could potentially be dangerous," said Udi Shalvy, a spokesman for the Interior Security Ministry. "But the danger of not having the information outweighs the risks of what might happen to it," he said. "This information will be protected by the Interior Security Ministry unlike any other database," he added. But in January of 2007, Vital Population Registry information was leaked and posted on the Internet, prompting the Interior Ministry to demand an investigation into the incident. The Jerusalem Post reported then, that those data files, compiled by the Interior Ministry on all Israeli citizens, contained personal information that could potentially be used without authorization by Internet marketers and cyber-criminals. On top of the potential financial harm poised to everyday citizens as a result of that leak, the downloadable data also included particularly sensitive information, such as the addresses of senior government and security officials. The Interior Ministry, which was entrusted to protect that information issued a statement at the time, saying it had passed the data on to the political parties running for the Knesset in the last election in accordance with the law, and only then did the information show up in file sharing sites on-line. The current bill declares that the production of fake passports and identity cards is a growing phenomenon that increases illegal immigration and criminal and economic crimes and poses a serious security risk. Ordinary identity cards and passports, it says, are easy to counterfeit, and many groups are interested in such fake documents. Each phony identity card or passport sells for a few hundred to a few thousand shekels, while original cards and passports sell for much more. The Interior Ministry said that in 2007, more than 155,000 Israeli identity cards were reported stolen, lost or destroyed - more than during the previous year. Almost 59,000 residents asked twice for a new identity card to replace their old card between 2003 and 2007, while almost 8,000 asked for a replacement three times and 1,500 asked for a replacement four times during that period. Biometric markers on the face and fingerprints can bring an end to this risk, the government said, as these identification markers don't change over time, except in a few rare cases. The ministries asked that a special authority be established by the Interior Ministry to store the data. Thus the individual's biometric data in his identity card or passport chip could easily and rapidly be compared to the original information in the official data bank. ACRI said that such a data bank would make it even more dangerous if counterfeit documents reached the wrong hands. "Biometric information on a certain individual that reaches a criminal could be used by the criminal for as long as he wishes," the civil rights group said. ACRI also claimed that Interior Ministry officials had earlier conceded that there was no need for such a database to fight counterfeit documents. The group added that experts at the Justice Ministry, the Council for the Protection of Privacy and the Israel Bar opposed the bill as well.