Israeli agency unlawfully shared biometric data of citizens for 7 years, report reveals
A report authored by Roy Friedman, head of the Biometrics Applications Unit of Israel’s National Cyber Directorate, has disclosed that a division of the Ministry of Interior shared millions of facial images from the national biometric database with an unnamed agency for nearly a decade.
Israeli daily Haaretz writes that the report indicts the Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry for engaging in acts that breached principles guiding the country’s biometric identification scheme.
Per the report, the illegal sharing of reduced-quality facial images from the biometric database started in 2015 and ended only in March 2022 after an alarm was raised. Friedman was quoted as saying he is following up on the matter until the situation is fixed.
Haaretz also refers to a report which had called out the Population Authority for setting up separate biometric databases for reduced image quality which was in contravention of the law, but the Authority responded that the databases were set up to serve service providers across its offices. One of such databases was connected to the computer system of border control agents where the biometric data of those traveling in and out of the country was collected, apparently among those shared with the third party.
Friedman has recommended that this database be shut down, although the Population Authority has insisted on its importance, which it says is necessary for service providers, especially those dealing with people who possess no identification documents, according to Haaretz.
Meanwhile, revelations about the unlawful sharing of biometric data with the unnamed agency have sparked concerns from rights activists in a country where the use of biometric surveillance technologies is gaining ground.
The activists are now calling on the attorney general’s intervention to cause the deletion of the data.
Zvi Dvir, official of an advocacy group, Digital Rights Movement, was quoted by Haaretz as saying: “We were promised that the collection of data was meant to prevent identity theft. We were told the information would not be transferred to any other agency. So they promised. The attorney general must intervene and demand the deletion of the illegal database of that agency immediately.”
Haaretz reports that the Population Authority says it is taking steps to amend the situation.
A draft bill was recently approved by Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation for the Israeli Police to access biometric information from a CCTV surveillance system already in place.