Israeli court rejects call to delete government’s biometric database, leaves room for appeal
Five years after civil society organizations and digital rights advocates asked Israel’s High Court of Justice to cancel a law obliging citizens to be part of a government biometric database, their petitions have been rejected by the court.
“The petitions are to be stricken, without making a final ruling as to the parties’ arguments and without closing the door on the filing of an appropriate and updated petition,” wrote the High Court Judges in their decision, according to Haaretz.
The petitions were filed in March 2017, arguing that the law mandating citizens submit face and fingerprint biometrics for the government’s database was an unconstitutional violation of their privacy. They also said that the biometric database would not prevent identity theft as authorities claimed.
The judges found that the arguments advanced in the petitions, which were championed by advocacy group Digital Rights Movement, did not sufficiently demonstrate how the biometric database cannot prevent ID forgeries.
The petitioners had also suggested that rather than have a central biometric database, citizens could instead be issued smart ID cards containing their biometric data, which can be verified with scan.
Israeli authorities said one of the reasons for the biometric database is to help fight ID forgery and prevent the practice of identity theft by cyber criminals.
“Millions of citizens still hold non-biometric IDs today, and it is therefore difficult to empirically and comprehensively assess petitioners’ claim that there are – and are not likely to be – attempts by criminals to acquire dual identities using biometric means. It can be expected that with the transition to biometric identification documents in full – and according to the material submitted, the intention is to reach such a result in 2024 – it will be possible to better assess the concerns and risks,” another publication, Middle East 24, quotes the judges saying.
They added: “(W)e have decided not to reject the petitioners’ claims, but to order the deletion of the petitions, significant parts of which have in any case exhausted themselves or are no longer relevant…This result means that the door is not closed for examining future developments – both at the technological level and at the level of compliance.”
The decision of the High Court has gone down poorly with some, especially the attorneys who argued for the petitioners in the suit. One of them Jonathan Klinger was quoted by Haaretz as calling it a “cowardly decision.”
The Israeli biometrics database has been controversial for years. Early this year, the interior minister asked parliament for an extension of an order to continue to collect fingerprints for the database until 2025.
In May, revelations emerged in a report that the Ministry of Interior unlawfully shared data from the biometric database with an unnamed external agency for more than seven years, prompting a proposal for the database to be shut down entirely.