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Israel to review use of centralized biometric database


Israeli’s Interior Ministry, under direction of the country’s High Court of Justice, has agreed to review whether the creation of a single, central biometric database and the use of smart identity cards are acceptable.

Opponents of the highly controversial database, which includes prominent Israeli scientists and security experts, warned that government plans for a centralized database comprised “a sensitive and powerful resource that provides an unprecedented mechanism for surveillance and control” in a court filing in February.

The opponents are challenging Israel’s Biometric Database Law, which was approved by the Knesset in December 2009, which mandated that fingerprints and facial contours would be collected from all Israeli residents, which would be integrated onto digital identity cards and digital passports, and also into a biometric government database that would assist with border control, identification of individuals and assist in locating individuals suspected of criminal activity by the law enforcement officials.

When the law passed in December 2009 it was determined that the law be gradually applied and that at the first phase, the inclusion of one’s biometric data in the central database would be voluntary and their would be trial period to evaluate thee smart identity card implementation.

The government was at the cusp to launching its smart card trial period, but the court has ruled that the government must rework its planned pilot of the program to also evaluate whether it is necessary to store the population’s biometric data in a single, centralized database.

Opponents are concerned about a centralized database because in 2006, the country’s primary biometrics database was stolen and sold by criminals, compromising the biometric data of nine million Israelis. The data was ultimately uploaded to the Internet and was available for public download via bittorrent.

They also argued that the existence of such a database could damage both civil liberties and state security, because criminals or hostile individuals could utilize any database security breeches against Israeli residents. As a result of their arguments, the court ordered the Interior Ministry’s review, despite the fact that the opponent’s petition was premature, since the government had not yet begun its smart card trial.

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