REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- The investigation was a quiet affair. Knowledge that a comprehensive database with information about every Israeli citizen was available on the Web was an open secret.
According to officials in the Justice Ministry, a subcontractor employed by the Welfare Ministry as a database manager pinched the computer program and national database. After installing it on his personal computer, he gave a copy to a client. Eventually, the information made it to the Web.
The database contains comprehensive information about 9 million people, including names, ID numbers and addresses. Israel's population is about 7.4 million, but the database is said to include details of deceased people as well. Accessing the lists enables anyone to take a walk through an individual's entire family tree, and cross-reference any information desired.
Officials this week announced details of the investigation and said six suspects had been arrested.
The Israeli Law, Information and Technology Authority, a relatively new Justice Ministry body that serves to regulate data protection and recently approved Google's operation of Street View in Israel, has worked on the case.
According to Yoram Hacohen, who heads the group, the leaked information was used in a wide variety of crimes. In addition to identity theft, assorted fraud and forgery, and ordinary privacy issues, the breach has security implications.
Hacohen said exposing details about government officials and senior officers could compromise their safety. The identities of intelligence and army personnel are often kept confidential, he said.
Many people believe one of the best ways to battle identity theft and financial scams is by using smart IDs, which have biometric data that cannot be faked. But Israel has been bogged down in the procedures of issuing biometric identification and establishing a national biometric database.
Some worry that if low-tech information leaks cause problems, misuse of a biometric database could be disastrous. The debate about a biometric database has gone on for years.
Michael Eitan, a lawmaker long opposed to the use of a biometric database, said concentrating every individual's information in one database serves no real purpose, and is an accident waiting to happen.
-- Batsheva Sobelman