Knesset approves making biometric ID cards mandatory

Final version of law will obligate citizens to put facial recognition information in national database, but not necessarily fingerprints

A sample biometric 'smart card' (photo credit: Lior Mizrahi/Flash 90)
A sample biometric 'smart card' (photo credit: Lior Mizrahi/Flash 90)

The Knesset on Monday passed a controversial law that will obligate all Israeli citizens to obtain biometric ID cards, with their personal information being stored in a national database.

Proponents of the law say it is necessary to prevent ID theft. Opponents have argued the database would be vulnerable to hacking, and compromises citizens’ personal data.

The newly passed law takes into account a number of criticisms of a pilot plan that began in 2013, which has already seen some 1.2 million Israelis volunteer for the program.

The law was passed after a second and third reading in a 39-to-29 vote. It is set to go into effect on July 3.

The biometric card is designed to digitally encode personal information, fingerprints, photo and facial profile. The data will be stored in a chip attached to the card, which will also contain the holder’s name, gender and birth date. All information will be stored in a secured database.

The law requires all citizens to give high-resolution facial images to be stored in the national biometric database. They may, however, opt out of releasing their fingerprints to the database, though that information will remain on the card.

Those who refuse to store their fingerprints in the database will be required to renew their IDs every five years, rather than every 10.

The final text also mandates that fingerprint information can be stored in the database only for those 16 or older, up from 12 in previous versions.

Another key change is how much access police will have to the database. The police will not be able to use the biometric information until the Knesset passes more regulations on the issue.

The updated law also requires the National Cyber Bureau, a division of the Primes Minister’s Office, to look for an alternative to fingerprint technology every year and a half, rather than every two years.

Voting against the bill, the opposition repeated the criticisms of many of those who opposed the idea from the start.

MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) said: “I object in principle because I do not want, and I think no one wants, to live in a society of Big Brother… I oppose this law on a practical level because it is unnecessary, as there is no need for a biometric database if we are using smart cards” that can store information without a database.

MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union) said Israelis still do not understand the law and how it will influence their lives. “Soon they will become aware and understand, and [then] they will point an accusing finger at you, members of the coalition,” she warned.

MK Zuhair Bahloul (Zionist Union) charged that the law would deny citizens their right to privacy. “This law violates a constitutional right, of one of the most important constitutional laws in Israel — human dignity and freedom,” he said.

MK Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beytenu) defended the law, but said she voted for it reluctantly.

“There is no debate as to whether smart cards are necessary. We live in a new era where they are required. The question regarding the database is that indeed one day we fear it may get out one way or another. I am convinced that the situation in Israel is good, in contrast to databases in other countries… I will vote for this bill, but not with a quiet heart,” she said.

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