Israeli Court Outlaws Employee Fingerprint Time Clock

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By Jenny David

Israeli employers can’t require workers to provide their fingerprints for use with biometric time clocks, Israel’s National Labor Court has ruled ( Histadrut General Labor Fed’n v. Qalansuwa Municipality, Isr. Labor Ct., No. 7541-04-14, 3/15/17 ).

Requiring workers to provide their fingerprints, “while threatening (and realizing the threat) to revoke their pay if they do not, unlawfully infringes on their right to privacy and physical autonomy, and violates the employer’s duty to act in good faith and with great integrity,” the ruling by a panel headed by Judge Lea Glicksman said. “Additional and separate harm to privacy and autonomy is caused by the real risk that the fingerprint could be abused or used other than for the purpose it was given,” it said.

The ruling involved an Arab municipality in central Israel that required its educational workers to provide fingerprints as a condition of their employment.

Fingerprint is Personal Data

“A fingerprint is private and personal data, and its very provision harms the privacy and autonomy of its provider,” the court said.

The use of a biometric clock “constitutes a significant change in employment conditions and as such requires consultation with workers’ representatives,” it said. The municipality isn’t entitled to impose the move on its workers unilaterally, or sanction those who refuse, the judges wrote.

The court ordered the Qalansuwa Municipality to stop using the biometric clock, stop collecting fingerprints and to destroy already stored fingerprints immediately.

Limited Prohibition

The court didn’t rule out the use of biometric systems in the workplace “totally or forever.” In the right situation, the reasonableness, proportionality, transparency and nature of informed consent might allow its use, the court said.

The court suggested that a law to regulate biometric use in the workplace is needed. It left undecided the question of whether the right to privacy could be restricted in a collective labor agreement.

Precedent for State Plan?

The decision is “historically significant,” Jonathan Klinger, legal advisor of the Digital Rights Movement, told Bloomberg BNA.

Most importantly, it provides a “tailwind” against the state’s plan for a mandatory biometric database of all citizens. “The court put an end to years of legal dispute when it determined that a worker is not voluntarily consenting to provide his fingerprint when he arrives at work, and that he cannot be forced to do so,” he said.

The court made clear that an “especially strong and legitimate interest” in collecting biometric data is required to allow a violation of privacy, Klinger said.

Attorney Avner Pinchuk, who represented the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) as a friend of the court on behalf of the employees, told Bloomberg BNA that he is hopeful that “employers will get the message that they must stop abusing the gap in power between them and their workers and respect their privacy.”

The municipality’s attorney, Waeil Rabi, told Bloomberg BNA that the city is “studying the ruling and considering what steps to take.”

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

For More Information

The ruling is available, in Hebrew, at http://src.bna.com/mZK.

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