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Israel: Biometric Passport Issuance Becomes Mandatory

(June 13, 2017) Under recently issued regulations on the inclusion of biometric identification (IBI Regulations) in identity cards and passports, Israel’s Ministry of the Interior will no longer issue such documents in non-biometric formats. (Inclusion of Biometric Identification Means and Biometric Identification Data in Identification Documents and in a Databank (IBI) Regulations (Temporary Amendment), KOVETZ HATAKANOT (KT) 2017 No. 7810 p. 1034, JUSTICE.GOV.IL (in Hebrew).)

The IBI Law defines the means of biometric identification as a photograph of a person’s facial features and the prints of his or her two pointing fingers, elements that constitute unique physiological human traits that can be digitally measured. (IBI Law, 5770-2009, § 2, SEFER HAHUKIM No. 2217 p. 256; IBI (Test Period) Decree, 5771-2011, § 33, KT 5771 No. 7025 p. 1287; Law Library of Congress, Biometric Data Retention for Passport Applicants and Holders: Israel (Mar. 2014).)

In accordance with the new IBI Regulations, as of June 1, 2017, facial recognition information and fingerprints from which biometric data was derived are required for the issuance of an identification document. While facial recognition data must be saved in a special biometric database, in the absence of the requester’s expressed consent, the fingerprint record will be erased after the identification document is issued. (IBI Regulations, § 6.)

The preservation of biometric data about Israeli citizens in a special databank started in 2013 as a voluntary, pilot program. (Ruth Levush, Israel: Pilot Program for Biometric Identification, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Dec. 3, 2012); Ruth Levush, Israel: Biometric Databank Proposal, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Nov. 19, 2009).) More than 1.1 million pieces of biometric data, including fingerprints and facial recognition photos, have reportedly been collected during the pilot period. (Rafaela Goichman, The Biggest Threat on the Biometric Databank Is Not the Hackers, MARKER (May 23, 2017) (in Hebrew).) The databank is managed by the Databank Authority, a special government unit set up under the IBI Law. (IBI Law, § 10.)

Cyber security experts have reportedly expressed concerns regarding the safety of storage of biometric data. Inside threats, of the type exemplified by the leaking of classified information in the United States by Edward Snowden, are considered to be equal to the cyber security dangers posed by outside hackers. In response to such concerns, Databank Authority officials stated that the authority continuously guards against and addresses security threats. (Goichman, supra.)