Law proposed for huge database on all air travelers to and from Israel

Vital personal information will be stored alongside extreme details on what passengers ordered (besides flights) in what is being billed as an attempt to prevent terrorism, serious crime and the spread of disease.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A law to construct one of Israel’s biggest databases ever based on airline data on travelers to and from the country is being promoted by government officials, Z’man Yisrael reported Sunday.

The bill, which the Justice Ministry said is only in its first stages of formulation, will force airlines to provide the government with far more than passengers’ names, dates of birth, credit card numbers, email and home addresses. It would also include the travelers’ full itinerary, including connecting flights, what duty-free products they bought on the plane and what luggage they checked in and carried on.

Other mandatory details that may seem completely incidental are the passengers’ seat numbers, flight upgrades, and the type of meals they ordered, among others.

The Justice Ministry defended the scope of the information to be stored, telling Z’man Yisrael, that it “will not be wider than is customary in the world, but will operate in accordance with the prevailing arrangements in the world on this issue, in accordance with the guidelines of the International Aviation Organization.”

The goals of the law, it said, “will include the fight against terror, serious crime, the security of civil aviation, the fight against illegal immigration and improving border security, as well as protecting public health by preventing the spread of plagues or infections.”

There is an international Guideline for Countries under the auspices of the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization for establishing and sharing national aviation databases. It was created in 2010 an attempt to prevent organized crime, terrorism and serious crimes such as flights from custody and child abduction. Protecting the “vital interests of passengers and the general public, including health,” was another stated goal.

The latter became a focus of intense interest in 2005 with the SARS epidemic, when senior US government officials began warning airlines that it would be impossible to monitor the spread of disease unless extensive data about passengers was given to the government. The issue became critical when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world early last year.

Still, U.S. airlines refused a Center for Disease Control request in March 2020 to provide the personal details of their clients, their destination addresses or emergency contacts, which could help track those who were infected.

Israeli attempts to track and contain incoming ill passengers fell short when thousands managed to evade quarantine procedures after arriving in the country. Air passengers also could – and did – hide if they came from ‘red’ countries by ordering connecting flights based in ‘green’ locales.

The question may be asked if Israel is overreaching in this attempt to protect its citizenry. If hackers managed to get into the database, the detailed personal information could lead to massive identity theft. And why does the government need to know if a passenger ordered wine with his meal, or brought a baby onboard?