July 5, 2016 -
Israeli Interior Minister Arye Dery announced that it will be mandatory for citizens to enroll in the national biometric database starting in 2017, according to a report by Haaretz
The government launched the biometric database’s pilot phase in July 2013, which was supposed to conclude after two years. However, the pilot has since been extended twice — the most recent of which occurred in March, which will see the pilot go through to the end of 2016.
“From now on anyone obtaining a document from the Interior Ministry, whether an ID card or a passport, will receive a biometric one,” Dery said at a ceremony marking the millionth person to join the biometric database, held last week at the new Population and Immigration Authority office in south Tel Aviv. “We’ve decided on having this database and we’ll soon decide what will be included in it.”
“Israel is joining many other countries around the world which have concluded that their citizens should have smart and secure documentation. With all the attempts by various organizations to steal identities, it’s important to have a smart and reliable document… It’s the right and safe thing to do – there is nothing to worry about. There is nothing more secure than this database. People can remain calm, I can say with certainty – we have a secure database. Everything we do is for the benefit of our citizens.”
The country saw steady biometric enrollment numbers for the first couple years of the pilot. However, during the third quarter of 2015, there was a drastic decline in the number of people signing up, with only 25% of people registering for new documents in that period opting for biometric versions.
The Population Authority has released new data that shows that these numbers have increased, with 31% of people opting for biometric documentation between November 2015 and May 2016.
It remains to be seen whether the biometric data will be retained in the database after the pilot ends — a move that would have to be approved by the Knesset plenary.
The biometric database — which contains high-resolution facial photos and the prints of applicants’ two index fingers — is designed to prevent people from assuming a false identity by duplicating ID cards and passports.
Senior Interior Ministry officials said they are now investigating other methods for the database, including one option that would use only facial photographs.
Dery has also looked into another option that would combine the two methods. In this option, the individual’s facial photo would be mandatory and the fingerprints voluntary.
The biometric database has gained its share of criticisms from privacy advocates that are concerned about a potential breach of sensitive information. They have recommended the use of smart documents that contain the biometric data instead of storing the data at a centralized site.
“We claim that this database is unnecessary, since people rarely lose documents that can prove their identity,” said Attorney Yehonatan Klinger, the legal adviser of the Movement for Digital Rights. “There is no need for a database that will store fingerprints – identities can be verified without this. We’ll do our utmost so that the interior minister makes the right decision and halts the establishment of this database.”