Biometric database pilot continues in Israel despite negative report

June 24, 2015 - 

Israel Interior Minister Silvan Shalom announced he is extending the biometric database pilot program for identity cards for a nine month period, according to Jerusalem Post.

Shalom made the announcement a few hours before the State Comptroller Joseph Shapira released his heavily anticipated report about the pilot program.

In the report, Shapira concluded that the program had failed several of its benchmarks and that the Knesset should seriously consider all points before deciding on whether to officially implement the database.

The report pointed out many deficiencies of the program, including the absence of information regarding the database’s performance in preventing identity theft, the use of a defective fingerprint scanning process resulting in 430,000 defective scans, the use of a temporary and inaccurate database system and method of comparing the system’s results that has no long-term basis, not considering any alternative solutions to preventing identity theft, and ignoring the comptroller’s previous warnings of the database’s flaws.

In 2009, the Knesset first authorized the pilot to trial biometric identity cards – which are linked to a database containing biometric data such as fingerprints and facial images — in an effort to prevent people from using fake identity cards.

In August 2011, the Biometric Database Authority was established to manage the database, which was followed by the launch of the pilot on June 30, 2013. The first year saw 430,000 people voluntarily register, with over 700,000 people currently registered for the biometric card.

Because it was a pilot program and because of serious concerns that abuse of the more personal information used in the cards could lead to grave privacy violations, all registration for the program has been voluntary until now, and its continuation has been an open question.

The report encapsulates two comprehensive reviews of the program, with the first review conducted from January 2014 to July 2014 and the second round going from September 2014 to January 2015.

Shalom said the program must be extended in order for him and the new members of the Knesset State Control Committee to better understand the issue as they have only recently been tasked with overseeing the issue.

The Biometric Database Authority responded to the comptroller’s statement that the pilot failed to show sufficient evidence that biometric cards prevent identity theft by stating that other countries that are currently implementing similar programs have managed to lower identity theft.

Shapira also pointed out that between August 2013 and April 2014, 16% of 91,000 new biometric identity cards used at Ben-Gurion Airport failed to work. Most of the failures stemmed from the diminishing quality of the fingerprints embedded in the cards.

Although the authority did not address the exact numbers bought up by the comptroller, he said Shapira’s in-real-time review of the pilot allowed for the organizers of the program to resolve these issues as the program progressed and that such issues have now all been fixed.

The authority also criticized supposed alternatives to the database as being completely insufficient and defective, but failed to address the allegation of how thorough it reviewed such alternatives.

It also said officials from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the police and other third-party evaluators were satisfied with the program’s ability to protect public privacy as well as its overall progress in resolving any flaws.

Knesset State Control Committee chairman Karin Elharar said the report “raises man failures and the State of Israel cannot move into the biometric world until all of the failures are corrected.”

Previously reported, the Digital Rights Movement recently published a report criticizing the biometric database that Israel’s Interior Ministry is trialing, identifying a number of defects that could potentially result in data being leaked from the system.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.