Biometrics Starts Up Despite Opposition

YERUSHALAYIM -

An Interior Ministry pilot program for instituting a biometric database in Israel overcame years of controversy on Monday, according to media reports.

The test project, opened in Rishon Lezion on Monday afternoon, will offer citizens coming to renew or receive a new identification card the option of signing up for a new biometric version or the traditional blue identification card.

Civil rights groups have fought the innovation on the grounds that it would provide a dangerous platform for surveillance of private citizens.

Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich called the database “an experiment on humans,” and warned that “it is just a matter of time before such a database leaks to wealthy or hostile elements that may hold, for example, addresses and fingerprints of IDF soldiers.”

In July 2012, the High Court of Justice held a hearing during which the Interior Ministry agreed to review the biometric cards proposal, following a petition by civil rights groups and data security campaigners.

Petitioners, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the Movement for Digital Rights, said the plan had intentionally deleted less problematic alternatives to the database.

The Knesset first approved the biometric database program in 2009, and in June 2011 the Knesset Science and Technology Committee approved the ordinances needed to establish it.

Responding to the announcement, ACRI said that it “objects to the biometric database because it is not a necessary aspect of a ‘smart’ identification system — even one that includes biometric data — but rather a repository of citizens’ physiological data, vulnerable to both government abuse and outside infiltration [as recent developments have shown].”

Interior Minister Gideon Saar (Likud) tried to deflate criticism, saying, “There is no reason to panic,” pointing out that it’s “less than what an Israeli is asked to give when he enters the United States.”

Saar held up his own biometric ID card at the opening ceremony, and said: “This is my new ID card.”