Rights group blasts Interior Ministry's biometric ID bill

Legislation calls for scrapping old ID cards, passports and issuing ones with digital renderings.

biometric passport 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
biometric passport 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Knesset Science and Technology Committee is due to hold another discussion on Monday about the controversial Inclusion of Biometric Identifying Features in Identity Documents and a Data Bank bill. Committee chairman Meir Sheetrit hopes to approve the bill for second and third readings in time for the final approval by the Knesset plenum before the summer recess, which starts at the end of the week. The bill calls for scrapping the old identity cards and passports and issuing new ones that include digital renderings of biometric features, including two fingerprints and the contours of the face. If an authorized official were to call on a citizen to present an ID, the official would be able to compare it to the information in a data bank containing the biometric details of every citizen and resident of Israel. According to attorney Avner Pinchuk of The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a permanent data bank constitutes a threat to democracy because it would mean that the government had vital information on every inhabitant of the country, and would pose a serious danger to individual privacy. "The social contract is based on the idea that the individual gives up some of his rights to the authority in return for public order, stability and security," Pinchuk told The Jerusalem Post. "But he does so with a tight fist and only when it is absolutely necessary." He provided an example of the threat posed by the biometric data bank, saying that if police took photographs of demonstrators, or if they even found photographs in newspapers, they would be able to identify them by comparing the facial contours from the photos to the information in the data bank. Another problem, according to Pinchuk, is that no one can guarantee that the data bank will not be leaked or broken into. One of the problems this could cause is the stealing of an individual's identity by forging his biometric details - fingerprints, for example. Furthermore, some facial features are so similar that there is a 6-percent possibility of identification error. In cases where the facial features of a suspect are known, the data bank would likely supply several possible names, leading to a situation in which innocent people would be summoned for investigation. Pinchuk added that his organization was not opposed to the introduction of a "smart" identity card or passport. He agreed with the Interior Ministry and Sheetrit, who was interior minister when the bill was originally drafted, that current identity cards and passports could be and were easily forged. However, he rejected Sheetrit's claim that the data bank was equally as necessary as the smart ID or passport because it would prevent identity theft. Even if it did help, said Pinchuk, the threat to individual liberty far outweighed whatever benefits the data bank offered. Sheetrit told the Post he was prepared to respond to these and other criticisms of the bill, but that it would require an in-depth interview, which he was ready to grant as soon as possible.