I don’t know anyone who has real faith in the Israeli government. Faith in the IDF? Well, that’s an entirely different issue, but faith in the government – not so much. So it would be pretty obvious that I want such an organization to have as little control over me as possible. In this day and age, much more than in the past, information is the key to control.
That is why the Knesset’s latest move is more than just wrong, it’s scary. Much more harm than good can ever come out of the government possessing a massive biometric database of all citizens. The vote over this bill, which has only passed a first reading in the Knesset (meaning it has two more to go), passed 18-1. How can only 19 Knesset Members do away with basic civil liberties so easily?
It is a bit odd to find myself agreeing with Dov Khenin of Hadash (the only MK who voted against the bill). Disagreeing with the overly inflammatory Aryeh Eldad of the National Union is generally pretty easy, but not usually on major issues. This time he has really crossed the line. In claiming that “those opposing the bill are mostly crooks and felons,” he shows that he has no respect for the democratic process, or for anyone who ever disagrees with him. Thus, he is denying that his opponents on this matter have any valid points, pejoratively lumping civil rights proponents along with criminals.
One of the goals of this bill, which carries with it a maximum sentence of one year in jail for refusing to give biometric samples, is to tackle forgeries of ID cards, which is a real problem in Israel. However, IDs in Israel are overly easy to forge are not scannable, and make a New Jersey driver’s license seem like a challenge to forge. What Israel needs to do is design a new ID card – not eliminate basic privacy rights.
The inept and corrupt police would also have access to this database, however, they would need a court order to do so. The courts are not exactly clean themselves, and yet they would be able to determine whether or not your private information is made completely public (leaks from the police are are more common than rain in Israel).
In addition, the current Knesset’s authority to carry out such a far-reaching decision is questionable. Yes, it is legally allowed to pass bills, but in a parliamentary system where the people push the government out every so often, a lame duck Knesset really ought to act its part. This means only dealing with urgent legislation, not continuing, business as usual. Olmert’s resignation (though not yet in effect), coupled with Livni’s inability to form a coalition which led to the upcoming elections (Feb. 10, 2009), not to mention the people’s utter disgust with the current government, make the current Knesset’s mandate to pass sweeping legislation extremely minimal. If only elected officials in Israel actually acted as representatives of the people…
Finally, Minister of the Interior, Meir Sheetrit, in an attempt to justify the bill said that “the entire world is going biometric.” To paraphrase my mother – if the entire world jumped off the roof, would you?