Israel leaked biometric data of millions to 'mystery agency'

Israel leaked biometric data of millions to 'mystery agency'
2 min read
22 May, 2022
Israel is a leader in spyware and cyber surveillance technology, routinely used against Palestinians under military occupation. However, this technology is also increasingly turned against Israeli citizens.
The biometric facial images of millions of Israelis were illegally shared with an unnamed agency [Getty Images]

Israel's interior ministry illegally shared the biometric data of millions of Israelis with another Israeli government agency, officials said last week, raising concerns from Israeli rights groups.

The breach, which started in 2015 and went on until March, was revealed by the head of Israel's National Cyber Directorate’s Identity and Biometric Applications Unit Roy Friedman in an official report.

Biometric facial images were collected by the Population and Immigration Authority, a division of the interior ministry, and shared in "reduced-quality" format with another government agency, Friedman said.

"We were promised that the collection of data was meant to prevent identity theft. We were told the information would not be transferred to any other agency. So they promised," Zvi Dvir of the Digital Rights Movement told Israeli daily Haaretz. "The attorney general must intervene and demand the deletion of the illegal database of that agency immediately."

Friedman, whose unit is responsible for monitoring the use of biometric technology, learned through the course of his work that several databases containing biometric facial images of Israelis had been illegally set up by the Population and Immigration Authority.

This includes one database set up on the computers of border control agents. Biometric photos of people leaving and exiting the country were kept illegally and shared with another agency, which remains unknown, for several years.

Friedman's revelations raised alarm in Israel, where the use of biometric technology is fast expanding. The Israeli cabinet last week authorized the police to set up biometric cameras in public spaces.

Israel has long tried to market itself as a high-tech, “start-up nation”. Its cyber-surveillance companies provide services to foreign governments across the world. But critics say this technology is used essentially against Palestinians and was developed to serve the longest military occupation in the modern era.

Occupied east Jerusalem is already extensively monitored by a network of over 1,100 cameras, and biometric cameras have been installed at major checkpoints throughout the occupied West Bank without concerns for the protection of Palestinians' private lives or data.

The Israeli military has been photographing Palestinians for years to build a massive database of Palestinians’ facial metrics. 

But this cyber-surveillance technology is increasingly being used against Israelis themselves. In January, the chairman of the Israeli firm NSO stepped down after Israeli's attorney general ordered an investigation into how NSO's flagship Pegasus spyware had been used to hack the phones of Israeli citizens.

In November, NSO was blacklisted by the US Commerce Department, who said it sold spyware to foreign governments which then used the equipment to target government officials worldwide, journalists and others.