The Population and Immigration Authority (PIA) started issuing biometric identity cards and passports this past June. The move came after a year of bickering between privacy advocates and those in favor of biometrics.
Non-biometric identity cards and passports will be valid until their expiration date.
The question now is whether the use of biometrics will help protect identities or infringe on privacy?
Any Israeli who wants to apply for a new ID card or passport will now need to be photographed, which will be placed in a database. Applicants do have the option to choose whether their fingerprints will be stored.
All of the information is stored in a chip on new identity cards and passports.
Israelis who choose to store their fingerprints will receive documents that last for 10 years, and those without fingerprints will only be valid for five years.
The good news? Minors under the age of 16 will not be fingerprinted and can only receive documents that are valid for five years.
On the surface, the use of biometrics seems like a smart way to prevent identity theft – a growing problem all over the world. No one is immune to the clutches of identity thieves, even the rich and famous. In 2016, Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli alleged to be a victim of identity theft. The claim came after a report was released that tied her name to a string of suspicious bank transfers.
According to Keller Law Offices, an identity theft charge can involve the illegal use of a person’s name, date of birth, taxpayer information, and electronic ID number.
If hackers manage to get into the database holding the personal information of Israelis, it could pose a major problem for the government. Of course, Israelis would be the ones to suffer, with many having to deal with identity theft.
Here’s the thing: this problem has already arisen. In 2011, a database containing the names, birth dates, national ID numbers and family members of nine million Israelis was hacked. That information was posted on the Internet. This was allegedly an inside job carried out by a contractor at the Israeli Welfare Ministry who had access to the database. The database is part of the country’s population registry.
Israeli authorities say that the purpose of the new database is to prevent fraud and identity theft. A pilot program was launched in 2013, but backlash from civil rights groups forced the government to make fingerprints optional.
Israelis will have the option to delete their fingerprint information after giving permission.
The use of biometrics can help reduce identity theft, but the effort is for naught if hackers manage to get information from the database. Rather than a handful of Israelis being the target of identity theft, a much larger number of citizens would be at risk.
But there’s also the argument that biometric databases are the future. In Europe, countries like the Netherlands and Germany are automatically including biometric information on RFID chips in passports. India is building the world’s largest biometric database, which will hold the personal information of nearly one billion citizens. The database will give citizens easy access to health care and education.
Time will tell whether the use of biometrics will be more beneficial than harmful to Israelis. But the nine million Israelis who had their information stolen are a warning of what can happen if hackers set their sights on a target.