The Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), recently completed the enactment of the controversial biometric database law. The law, originally enacted in 2009, establishes a national database containing biometric information from all Israeli citizens. Its declared purpose is combating large-scale loss and theft of government-issued ID cards and passports used by criminals and terrorists. The original law established an initial pilot period during which Israelis applying to obtain or renew their government-issued ID or passports could have voluntarily chosen to obtain biometric-based IDs and passports, by providing their fingerprint samples and a facial photograph. The initial pilot period was repeatedly extended over the years.
The newly enacted law will transition the biometric database project from its pilot phase to permanent and full scale operation. During the forthcoming permanent phase, collection of facial biometric information from passport or national ID applicants will be mandatory. However, applicants will be able to opt-out of having their fingerprints taken and recorded in the database. In that case, they will be issued national ID cards or passports with a 5 year expiry date, rather than 10 years for those willing to have their fingerprints sampled and recorded. The shorter expiry period is intended to make forgeries and identity thefts more difficult.
The law, as enacted, was substantially amended compared to the proposed bill. Among other issues, fingerprints of children under the age of 16 will not be stored in the database and police will not be allowed to access or use the database until the Knesset promulgates regulations on this issue. In addition, the head of the Israeli National Cyber Bureau will evaluate the necessity of fingerprint sampling and the availability of alternatives, once every 18 months.
Given the controversy surrounding the biometric database, the newly enacted law is likely to be the subject of a High Court of Justice petition challenging its constitutionality on privacy and data protection grounds.
CLICK HERE for the formally published statute (in Hebrew).