The Blog

A Biometric Tower of Babel

The unrestricted flow of information over the Internet and social networks provides an opportunity to one of mankind's most glorious times. If we don't protect the public, this could easily become a mean of chaos, repression and dominance.
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"Let us build ourselves a biometric database with its top in the heavens" is a fair and precise paraphrase coined by bloggers describing the biometric database, by comparing it to the Towel of Babel, built with arrogance and ignorance.

Following the biometric database and identification law, a creation of such a database is currently underway in Israel, one that would contain the identifying finger prints and photos of not only wanted criminals, but of every single citizen. The recent Saudi hacker's break-in into secured databases and the subsequent publication of thousands of details of Israelis' private data and credit card numbers over the Internet comes as a warning signal alerting us to freeze the plan at once.

All the more because my personal and credit card details were among those disclosed over the Internet in this Saudi initiative, though I believe that the issue of credit card theft is of lesser significance. The credit card companies will reimburse us. I'm however more worried by the fact that databases are growing more detailed and monstrous, being an easy prey for criminals and hostile agents. Moreover, one can't call upon the State to help and act as a regulator on this, since the State itself, in establishing this database, creates the most austere hazard to human dignity, humans' farewell, rights and privacy.

The pretext for this legislation was the primitive state of our national identification cards, and the need to replace them with biometric forms of identification. This is a proper cause, yet there's nothing to do between biometric identity cards and a central database containing all of this biometric data. In fact, not a single western country, not even those issuing biometric forms of identification, is even thinking about holding such a totalitarian form of dominance.

We've been promised that this database would be totally secured. Last weeks' events prove such a goal is not viable. Every child knows that there are only three ways to completely secure a computer: by not buying it; by not connecting it to power; or alternatively by keeping it in a safe and never connecting it to a network. An intensive action by a wealthy holder of interest, a hostile activity, an outsourced IT technician trying to make a fortune, or even just a contracted administrative employee at the Ministry of Interior, who earns the minimum wage and loses his or her temper. All of those, or even just a sequence of human made mistakes, can bring down any wall of defense. The damage would be irreversible and beyond repair for the rest of the lives of those included in the database. Credit cards may be blocked. Personal passwords may be changed. Even a personal autograph may be left behind. But finger prints and identifying facial features are there for good. That is, unless you are a global terrorist or a master criminal, most of us being neither.

The fundamental question here is the mere right of a state to hold such a database, providing itself with not only unrestrained power over offenders, but also over every human. Going down a slippery slope, this database could become a tracking device in an unbearable and easy way. First against criminals, then against protestors, and so on. This is Orwell's 1984. A gateway towards a totalitarian state, in which one's basic freedoms are crushed and it is potentially being traced without knowing. What's even worse is that this wouldn't stop at the State's doorstep. In a world where big corporations and tycoons influence political entities and shape them with Capital's might and needs -- it's only a matter of time before this database would find its way to those very own forces. It's also not of our best interest to have the names, addresses, photos and finger prints of IDF soldiers fall into the hands of Hezbullah.

The unrestricted flow of information over the Internet and social networks provides an opportunity to one of mankind's most glorious times. If we don't protect the public, this could easily become a means of chaos, repression and dominance.