On July 12, 2022, Israel’s High Court of Justice dismissed petitions to invalidate the operation of Israel’s biometric database. The biometric database was established in accordance with the Inclusion of Biometric Means of Identification and Biometric Identification Data in Identification Documents and in a Database Law, 5770-2010, as amended. This law authorizes collecting biometric identification items from Israeli residents and generating biometric identification data from the items in order to issue identification documents. The law further provides for the mandatory preservation of facial images and biometric data in a special biometric database and enables temporarily preserving the fingerprints of residents who give their consent to this. (HCJ 1946/17 Zaidan et al. v. Israel’s Government et al., State of Israel: The Judicial Authority.)
According to the petitioners, the establishment of the biometric database was intended to prevent criminals from attempting to gain a different or an additional identity (double acquisition) in order to commit various fraud offenses. They argued that it was not clear whether double acquisition posed a real or significant problem that had to be addressed. Moreover, the violation of privacy rights that may result from a leak or theft of information from the biometric database may be enormous.
The court noted that the petitioners’ main arguments centered on a concern for a potential infringement of a fundamental right rather than an actual infringement. The court determined that the petitioners had failed to lay the factual groundwork that could justify “the exceptional remedy of repeal of legislation.” It was difficult to evaluate the alleged harm resulting from operating the biometric database at a time when millions of Israelis still hold nonbiometric identification documents, the court stated. Materials submitted to the court indicate that Israel is expected to transition to fully biometric identification documents by 2024. In the view of the court, the petitioners’ concerns might better be assessed once this has occurred.
Considering that some of the arguments presented by the petitioners were either moot or premature and that the technological issues involved were subject to complex and fast-paced changes, the court decided not to reject the petitions but rather to dismiss them. This decision means that the parties retain the right to make their arguments again in the future, taking into account new developments in technology and the law’s implementation by the relevant authorities.
Ruth Levush, Law Library of Congress
November 3, 2022
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