Israel’s fingerprint identification system failing border and police checks at high rates

A committee reviewing Israel’s Biometric Database Law says that the fingerprint identification system is suffering high rates of failure when used both at the country’s borders and by police, Haaretz reports.

The committee produced a report which includes findings from a review of data provided by the Interior Ministry’s Population Registry, the National Biometric Database Authority, and police from mid-2017 to mid-2018.

The Population and Immigration Authority responded that fingerprint identification failures are not causing problems, as face matching is working at the predicted rates, and passport holders are identified face to face by a border control employee in the event that biometric identification fails. It also noted that some of the failures are caused by incorrect finger placement.

Police said in December that comparisons of fingerprints with data stored in biometric ID cards were failing at a very high rate, according to the report. Friedman requested police analysis and suggestions for how to address the problem, but the police have yet to respond.

“The police didn’t prepare appropriately to use the technology, to enforce the law, and there’s a real risk of improper identifications, one of the big risks to a law-abiding democratic country,” said Tehilla Altschuler Schwartz of the Israel Democracy Institute. “For instance, if someone is arrested and isn’t carrying an ID card, the police could take his fingerprints, run them through the biometric database and get a false match – and thus think they have someone else.”

The report also found that the Biometric Database Authority has been deleting data when required to do so by law.

The management of the database has been contested in court after it was allegedly performed by a private contractor for two years, in violation of the laws establishing it. Meanwhile, police were blocked from direct access to the database by a court ruling earlier this year.

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