Israel Adopts Biometric Database Despite Security Concerns

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By Jenny David

Israeli citizens would be required to join a controversial biometrics database, opposed as insecure by some corporate interests, under a law approved Feb. 27 by the country’s parliament.

The database is intended to support a more secure personal identification card system. Supporters say the database is necessary to prevent identity theft by criminals or terrorists. But opponents point to its high cost, alleged violation of privacy rights and risk of abuse. A hacker who gained access to the database, they say, could use stolen biometric data to undermine corporate security systems.

“Placing such sensitive information in government hands could be very, very problematic,” Eli Cohen, CEO of Tel Aviv-based cyberesecurity company Experis Cyber, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 28. Leaks of biometric data might allow hackers to pose as managers of small and medium-sized companies, “bypassing all their protective programs,” he said.

“Better there should be no central database that I, as a company, cannot control,” he added. Biometric identifiers on personal devices, including smartphones, tablets and wearable devices, is a “better way” to protect both individuals and businesses, he said.

Court Petition Promised

The database was authorized eight years ago as a voluntary system. A pilot program became effective four years ago. The move to make participation mandatory has been under debate ever since the database was proposed.

Interior Minister Arye Dery will have until May 1 to submit detailed enforcement regulations to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. If the parliament approves the regulations, mandatory participation will take effect July 3.

The law’s final draft made the inclusion of fingerprints in the database optional, required that police obtain a district court order for access to specified data and raised the minimum age for inclusion of minors’ fingerprints from 12 to 16. Those who opt to include only facial recognition in the database will be entitled to a smart identification card for five years, compared to 10 years for those who also submit fingerprints.

Karine Nahon, a founder of database opposition group Digital Rights Movement, said in a Feb. 27 statement that the “biometric database is a brutal act, which could turn Israel into a surveillance state and threaten the safety of its residents.”

The group will petition the High Court of Justice to overturn the law and will seek a declaration that the database is an unconstitutional violation of privacy rights, spokesman Nir Hirshman said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jenny David in Jerusalem at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald G. Aplin at daplin@bna.com

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