MKs: Biometric ID Card Program Outrageously Wasteful

View of the passport control machines which read the new biometric passports , at Ben Gurion International Airport, central Israel. A biometric passport is a combined paper and electronic passport which contains biometric information that can be used to authenticate the identity of travelers. May 20, 2015. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90
View of the passport control machines which read the new biometric passports, at Ben Gurion International Airport. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Waste bordering on corruption has plagued a program to supply “smart” ID cards to Israelis, MKs at a Knesset Interior Committee hearing were told. Five million of the cards equipped with biometric data chips were ordered, but 4 million of them are languishing in warehouses, as Israelis have largely rejected them, said MK David Amsalem (Likud), chairperson of the committee.

By way of example, said Amsalem, half of the cards were ordered and paid for even before the program started – and without a tender. “The state received permission to spend NIS 270 million on 2.5 million cards before the Biometrics Law even passed,” he said. “What would have happened if the law had been rejected?” The cards were ordered without a tender, “and with a tender we would have saved NIS 160 million on the project,” said Amsalem. “Did the enthusiasm for the biometric program justify this waste of money and violation of protocol?”

One of the reasons for the meeting in the Knesset Monday was a request by the Population Authority to extend the program – another aspect of the issue Amsalem finds ridiculous. “The program was first approved in 2005, and only a million of the five million cards are in use,” he said. “But let’s say they were all used. Would we want to extend a ten year old program using ten year old technology? The world has moved on, prices have changed. The only thing to remain the same, then, would be the government’s contract with its traditional supplier for the old technology? Should the whole program not be revamped and a new tender issued?”

The waste and near-corruption involved in the program merit a closer investigation, said Amsalem. “Does any of this appear legal to you?” he asked open-mouthed MKs, who concurred that the program was rife with errors.