Israeli scientists warn of privacy intrusion with biometric ID system

More than 70 Israeli computer scientists have written to the government seeking a re-think on plans to create a nationwide biometric ID database. In an open letter from academics including an Israel Prize laureate and former head of National Academy of Sciences, the scientists said the database will intrude on privacy and risk national security.

“We, the undersigned, computer and information security specialists, are warning the prime minister, cabinet ministers and Knesset [parliament] members of the risks involved in making the Interior Ministry’s experimental pilot biometric identification system compulsory for all residents of the State of Israel,” writes the letter. On 30 June, Israel’s parliament approved an extension to a trial biometric identity card pilot despite criticism that it has so far failed to meet many benchmarks. The vote represented approval for a decision by Interior Minister Silvan Shalom to continue the testing phase of the Biometric Database Law until March 2016. “Preventing fake IDs is an important goal, which can be achieved by using the appropriate technological means inside the ID cards”, wrote the 74 scientists “These technologies are quicker to install, cheaper, safer and less invasive than biometric devices and central databases, which are exposed to hacking, leaking or misuse.”

The parliament’s approval in June came despite a highly critical report by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira which stated that the pilot program has failed many of its benchmarks. Remarking on “significant defects” in the project, the comptroller requested a freeze on the legislative process. He had cited alleged deficiencies including an absence of information about how well the database has prevented identity theft; the use of a defective process for scanning fingerprints; the use of a temporary and flawed database system and method of comparing the system’s results that cannot be used in the long-term; and failure to consider alternative solutions to prevent identity theft.