Biometric database in action
Biometric database in actionFlash 90

Over ten thousand Israelis have signed up for a pilot project that provides them with a “smart” Israeli identity card that includes biometric information. The project is now operating in over a dozen cities, and is currently voluntary, although it is likely to become mandatory in the future.

The project opened about a month ago, and so far the response to it has been very positive and welcome, said Population Authority officials. Residents of the thirteen towns where the program is currently operating can go to their local Population Registry offices, submit their fingerprints and have their photos taken by a special camera that will analyze their facial characteristics, and be issued a smart identity card. More cities are to be added in the coming weeks, and by the end of the year the program will be operating in 28 cities.

The benefit for Israelis, according to the Interior Ministry, is that they will receive an identity card that will be next to impossible to duplicate, and will put a stop to instances of identity theft and fake ID cards.

According to the Ministry, tens of thousands of illegal workers and illegal PA Arabs are using phony ID cards, either totally fabricated or using real information about Israelis. Over 130,000 ID cards are lost or stolen each year, the Ministry said, constituting a major security threat that can be solved by the biometric cards.

The new program is voluntary, and is a pilot program designed to allow officials to determine if there are any problems with the biometric system. The program has been a controversial one; the law authorizing implementation of the biometric database was passed in 2009, but was challenged immediately by activists and privacy groups, as well as numerous MKs.

Among the reasons for opposition to the program, which will gather intimate details on Israelis, is the possibility that the data could be stolen, or even worse, used by the government to impose controls on individuals by limiting their access to services, and tracking them using biometric information.

“The information is well protected and will prevent identity theft,” Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar said. Regarding the fears that the information could be used in a negative manner, Sa'ar said that “there is no basis for the panic that has taken hold of some. The numbers of those requesting the cards is evidence of the faith the public has in the program, and its understanding the great need to defend individuals against identity theft and to ensure that we remain at the forefront of technology,”

Disagreeing with Sa'ar was Labor Party head MK Shelly Yechimovich, who said that implementation of the program would cause “irreversible damage” to Israel. “You can cancel credit cards that have been stolen, you can change a password that has been compromised, but you cannot change your fingerprints and face,” she said, pointing out the risks in holding such information in a database that would be a major attraction for hackers. “We all know that it is just a matter of time before corporations or hostile forces get hold of this information. The information will no doubt be used in a negative manner and will endanger many Israelis, such as IDF soldiers who will also have to give over their details in the program.”