Knesset Votes Biometric Database into Law

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Just three weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu postponed the vote on the controversial biometric database law, the Knesset passed the bill in its second and third readings by a vote of 40 to 11, with three abstensions.

On November 17, Netanyahu postponed the vote after human rights groups threatened to petition the Supreme Court if the Knesset passed the bill.

The legislation, proposed and championed by Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit, who served as interior minister in the Olmert administration, would require all Israeli citizens to undergo fingerprinting and facial scanning. The information would be stored on a chip placed in identity cards and passports.

Sheetrit dismissed objections by the bill's opponents who say that such a database endangers fundamental democracy.

"Passing the bill is a grave mistake, severely infringing on individual liberty," Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz said during Monday's debate in the Knesset.

But Sheetrit maintains that Interior Ministry staff can be counted on to safeguard the database.

"Only employees of the special authority set up in the Interior Ministry would have access to the database," Sheetrit said. "They would not work anywhere else and would undergo security examinations and screening," he said.

"They would have to pass a lie-detector test every year to make sure none of them is leaking or abusing the information," he said.

The legislation provides for a two-year trial period during which participation will be voluntary. The Interior Ministry will set up a "partial data base" to explore ways of safeguarding the data.

After two years, the interior minister will have the authority to require participation by all citizens or alternatively to extend the trial period for another two years.

According to the bill's proponents, if the government decides not to implement the law, the information that has been collected will be discarded.

Haaretz contributed to this report.

*Originally published December 9, 2009.

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