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EU rights groups demand revision to data transfer deal with Israel

EU rights groups demand revision to data transfer deal with Israel

More than ten human rights groups have signed a letter protesting the European Union’s decision to continue personal data transfers between the bloc and Israel. The call to re-evaluate data flows comes amid Israel’s push to beef up surveillance and give security agencies more power over data – including biometrics.

In January, the European Commission concluded its review of adequacy decisions regulating data transfers between 11 jurisdictions, including Israel. The countries were deemed to provide adequate data protection safeguards.

Rights groups, however, argue that the decision may go against European standards. The reasons behind this are not limited to Israel’s latest changes in security laws and surveillance practices. They also include the failure to align with EU data protection laws and to comply with international law on human rights, the letter notes.

“We are concerned about the inclusion of Israel in the list, in particular, because the country’s regulations regarding the obtaining, processing and onward transfer of personal data do not align with the standards outlined in the GDPR and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Charter),” the document says.

The letter was signed by 11 organizations, including Amnesty International, Statewatch, Access Now and European Digital Rights (EDRi), and addressed to Vice-President of the European Commission Věra Jourová.

In November 2023, the Knesset approved expedited legislation allowing Israeli security forces unfettered access to the National Biometric Database. The database holds fingerprint and facial data of approximately 7 million Israelis. The decision was made to identify murdered, kidnapped, and missing persons amid the war in Gaza.

The legislation was one of the moves the Israeli government has taken in recent years to increase its access to data and surveillance tools, causing alarm among human rights experts, according to Statewatch. Israel has also allowed security agencies to access private security cameras without court approvals and is attempting to legalize sophisticated surveillance tools similar to NSO Group’s spyware Pegasus.

The letter also highlighted Israel’s use of biometric databases and facial recognition to monitor Palestinian residents, detailed in a May 2023 report from Amnesty International.

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