Knesset committee extends biometric ID trial

2-month extension gives interior minister time to rewrite the law and do away with fingerprinting

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

A Knesset committee on Tuesday extended a controversial pilot project that offers Israeli citizens a biometric identity card, with personal details stored on a digital database.

A joint meeting of the Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee and the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee extended the program for two months by a vote of eight to seven. The extension will now go before the Knesset for confirmation.

The extension is meant to give Interior Minister Aryeh Deri time to make changes to the mandatory ID law, the Calcalist news site reported. Deri wants to remove fingerprints from the biometric database.

The pilot will continue to take fingerprints, but the committee called for them to be retroactively removed if the changes to the law are made, Walla reported.

The pilot plan allows Israelis to voluntarily get the biometric documents, but once the law is passed, biometric ID cards and passports will become mandatory. Some 1.2 million Israelis have already volunteered for the program, obtaining their documents at Interior Ministry offices throughout the country.

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.

There has been widespread opposition to the law, which aims, according to its advocates, to prevent identity theft and to ensure that terrorists are unable to pass as Israelis and gain access to population centers to carry out attacks. The proposal was first touted in 2009 by then-interior minister Meir Sheetrit, and approved on condition that a two-year pilot be conducted first. The trial period began in 2013 but was extended.

In June of 2015, a petition signed by 74 academics at Israel’s universities called the database a “security threat” that is vulnerable to hacking and data leakage. They asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Knesset to back off the plan “before Israeli citizens’ and the country’s security are badly damaged.”

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