After several delays, the Interior Ministry on Monday commenced the two-year pilot stage of Israel’s National Biometric Database Program. When completed, the database will include the biometric information – a face scan and fingerprints – of all Israeli citizens, accessible without court order to the police and security forces, including the army, the military police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). In addition, a court could also order the transfer of individual biometric information, and even the entire database, to other agencies and even to foreign bodies.
The database was an initiative of the security forces. The legislative effort, which was led my MK Meir Shitrit from Tzipi Livni’s “Tnua” party, was met with heavy criticism from the opposition and human rights groups, that warned of possible abuses of the power the database puts in the hands of authorities and of leaks that could see the information end up in the wrong hands. Most of the Interior Ministry’s current registration of Israeli citizens has already leaked to the Internet.
U.S. occupation soldiers scans Afghan inmates for biometric database (Photo: Wired)
“This is a tool without supervision. All the steering wheels are being controlled by the government. It does not matter if the people at the top are good or not,” said MK Dov Khenin (Hadash). According to MK Khenin “Biometric database is bad news.” He called on Israelis to refuse to participate in the biometric pilot project. Attorney Avner Pinchuk, the head of digital privacy issues for the Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) in Israel, has written extensively on the possibility that police could, for example, use the database to intimidate individuals who are considered “politically questionable,” such as Israeli peace activists who demonstrate weekly against Israel’s apartheid fence and occupation. ACRI, along with other groups, has filed numerous petitions with the High Court seeking injunctions against the implementation of the pilot program. The latest was dismissed just several weeks ago, removing the last obstacle to launching the program.
As if to confirm Pinchuk’s and others’ security fears, a Justice Ministry report leaked to the media over the weekend said that, despite the extra time the government has had to prepare for the database’s implementation, it suffered from significant security problems, even on the eve of the pilot program’s introduction. The report pointed to a shocking lack of security — the software didn’t even have an antivirus program. In addition, a team from the ministry’s Technology Authority, as well as a team from private security firm Comsec, were able to break into the database, the report said.