Opponents of Israeli Biometric Law: "It's a Step to a True Police State"

Published 20 July 2009

Debate heats up in Israel over the creation of a national biometric database; the law empowers the Interior Ministry to set up a database that would include biometric identification information on every Israeli citizen

The first section of Israel’s controversial Biometric Documents Identification Law (the “Biometrics Law”) was approved Sunday for its second and third reading by a joint Knesset committee which included MKs from the Science and Interior Committees. The session was headed by MK Meir Sheetrit, himself a former interior minister. Sheetrit first proposed the law when he was interior minister and has been pushing it through various Knesset committees, despite strong objections from some MKs and citizens’ groups.

Arutz Sheva’s David Shamah writes that the law empowers the Interior Ministry to set up a database that would include biometric identification information on every Israeli citizen. All citizens would be required to submit fingerprints and a facial profile to authorized government agents; those who refuse to do so could face jail time. The information would be stored in a special chip in ID cards, licenses, passports, and other identification documents, and citizens would be required to present the appropriate document when crossing borders, entering government buildings where identification is required, etc. In addition, the individual information would be saved in the Interior Ministry database.

The first draft of the law was approved by the Knesset last October, before the fall of the Olmert government. Sheetrit first proposed the law in order to help cut down on falsification of Israeli ID cards and passports — a major problem, Sheetrit says, given the possibility that Arab terrorists could get hold of Israeli documents to infiltrate the country and carry out terror attacks. Sheetrit says that there are as many as 350,000 forged ID cards in Israel.

Opponents say that while the extra security measures that biometric technology could supply are valid, the establishment of a database that would keep the information on file — advocated by both the Interior Ministry and the police — threatens civil liberties, and since the data could end up in the wrong hands, or be used for the wrong purpose, said MK Michael Eitan, chairman of the Knesset Constitution Committee and a sharp opponent of the law. “The database could leak and severely damage the right to privacy among Israeli citizens,” he said before the Knesset Committee discussion Sunday. It was Eitan’s idea to reopen discussion on a number of the approved sections of the law, out of fear that the public was not given a fair chance to learn the law’s provisions.

At Sunday’s session, a number of changes were inserted into several sections