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Israeli Interior Ministry asks to extend a controversial biometrics database

Israeli Interior Ministry asks to extend a controversial biometrics database

Israel’s Interior Ministry has asked the Knesset for an extension of an emergency order to continue collecting fingerprints until 2025 for its national biometric ID database, according to Haaretz.

The proposal made by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked to Israel’s parliament would allow the ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority to retain its fingerprint database for three more years. The authority says it needs about two years to buy facial recognition technology that would replace fingerprint biometrics. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, would need to vote on the measure.

The request, if approved, would continue an emergency order that will otherwise expire on May 31 and is not part of a 2017 biometric database law. The Knesset ordered the Interior Ministry to scrub fingerprint biometrics from a database of passport information in October 2020, after Israel’s State Comptroller found that a database containing the biometric data of 4.5 million Israeli citizens was improperly secured or encrypted. The committee that approved the database law says fingerprint collection should be halted and only pictures of faces should be kept.

The Interior Ministry said the state would have to provide funding for facial recognition technology to replace the fingerprint database before it would consider deleting it.

Haaretz reports it has documents that show that the Interior Ministry delayed the purchase process of the biometric technology, which was set to begin over a year ago. A committee established by then-Interior Minister Arye Dery recommended extending the emergency order by two years to give time to purchase and implement facial recognition technology.

The committee recommended not deleting the fingerprint database at the request of the Interior Ministry. The ministry argues that a fingerprint database is necessary in case of a natural disaster like an earthquake to identify victims.

The national biometric database courted controversy from the very beginning, with opponents of the bill saying it infringed on privacy rights. It was also criticized for opening the risk of being leaked or hacked, which would expose Israelis to public harm, and on grounds that cases of identity theft were limited to few incidents.

The Population and Immigration Authority has begun the purchasing process and a tender will be issued within a few months for a new biometric ID system that complies with the law and Shaked’s recommendations, reports Haaretz. The agency responsible for the biometric database has spent 155 million shekels (US$50 million) so far, according to Ministry figures.

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