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State comptroller urges delay of Israeli biometric database due to ‘fundamental problems’


In a report titled “National Biometric Documentation – A Trial Period”, Israel’s state comptroller Joseph Shapira highlighted the “fundamental faults” he discovered in the proposed mandatory national biometric database, according to a report by Haaretz.

Prior to releasing the report, Shapira sent copies to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gilad Erdan and urged them to delay legislation on a new national biometric database before informing him of the appropriate steps taken to resolve the issues highlighted in the report.

The comptroller’s office has also consulted with the Knesset State Control Committee to determine which aspects of the report can be publicized and which aspects should be kept confidential.

The report comes just a few days after Israel Interior Minister Gilad he will promote a multiyear process that would make it mandatory for all citizens to provide facial images and fingerprints to compile a national biometric identification system.

The Biometric Database Management Authority launched a pilot test of a biometric database that will run until the end of June. In nearly 20 months, some 630,000 people who received identity cards or smart passports have joined the database, said the authority.

The authority said that the flaws cited in Shapira’s report have already been corrected, as presented in its final report on the biometric database pilot that it submitted to the Knesset.

“Over the pilot period, the national biometric documentation project was examined by the state comptroller,” said the authority states in its final report. “The fact that the examination was conducted in real time allowed the authority to correct the faults the comptroller pointed out already during the period of the trial. The final report includes explicit comments on the faults, and details the way they were corrected.”

The authority added that “the attempt by the comptroller to stop the process set in law is not clear,” as well as opposed those parties who believe that the government should continue issuing smart documents without the presence of a centralized biometric database.

“In the absence of this database, one could appear multiple times as different persons before the Population and Immigration Authority, obtaining ‘real’ identity cards under different identities. The combination of smart documents and the biometric database is designed to locate and prevent such occurrences, so that each person has only one official identity,” states the report.

The mandatory national biometric database has been met with strong opposition by certain groups, including the Digital Rights Movement.

“The exceptional demand of the state comptroller is in keeping with the explicit comments of the legal counsel to the Knesset [the committee that supervises the database], the Knesset Research and Information Center, scientists and leading information security experts in Israel: The biometric database is dangerous, unnecessary and not properly secured, and the project to implement it is paved with faults and errors that strengthen the dangers expected from it many times over,” said the group in response to Shapira’s request.

“The time has come to free the citizens of Israel from the database and issue a smart identity card immediately, which cannot be forged, without collecting the fingerprints in a central database.”

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