Israeli attorney general affirms policy of e-mail searches of foreign travelers

ben gurion airport
Ben Gurion Airport

The Israeli attorney general has announced that security officials can demand to search foreigners’ e-mail accounts when they try to enter the country. The announcement, first reported by the right-wing daily Israel Hayom, comes in response to an inquiry from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). The move represents an Israeli government seal of approval on what has been an ongoing practice.

The Israeli attorney general’s office told ACRI that “officials may ask a person to open an email account for checks if they believe the person is suspect,” according to the Associated Press. Although a traveler can refuse the e-mail intrusion, that refusal would be a factor in determining whether a person can enter Israel. ACRI told the AP that “the attorney general’s letter effectively legalizes the email checks.”

The Guardian has more details:

“The threat of using foreign citizens for terrorist purposes is a growing trend,” said Nadim Avod, a lawyer in the attorney-general’s office. “Searching an email account is to be carried out in exceptional cases only after suspicious or pertinent information has been identified.”

However, the examination of email accounts must be carried out in the presence of the individual.

The authorisation stopped short of permitting security officers to demand passwords or other information that would allow email accounts to be accessed by Shin Bet officers.

In response to the attorney general’s announcement, ACRI Attorney Lila Margalit said:

A tourist who has just spent thousands of dollars to travel to Israel, only to be interrogated at the airport by Shin Bet agents and told to grant access to their email account, is in no position to give free and informed consent. Such “consent”, given under threat of deportation, cannot serve as a basis for such a drastic invasion of privacy. In today’s world, access to a person’s email account is akin to access to their innermost thoughts and personal lives. Allowing security agents to take such invasive measures at their own discretion and on the basis of such flimsy “consent” is not befitting of a democracy.”

The Shin Bet’s practice of searching the e-mails of travelers attracted widespread attention last year, largely due to the personal stories of Arab-American travelers being published on this website. Mondoweiss highlighted the stories of Sandra Tamari and Najwa Doughman and Sasha Al-Sarabi. All three of them were stopped by Israeli security officials at Ben-Gurion Airport and interrogated at length.

Tamari refused to have her e-mails searched and was deported; Al-Sarabi and Doughman consented, and were still deported. The Associated Press ran a story on all three of their ordeals, reporting that the practice, which targets Muslim and Arab travelers, “appears to be aimed at rooting out visitors who have histories of pro-Palestinian activism.”

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 58 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Pamela Olson says:

    They read all the text messages on my phone and my entire day planner one time. I wanted to scream. If I had taken my journal through, and they had read that, I don’t think I would have been able to handle it. Far more invasive than a full body cavity search.

    When they asked me for email information, I just told them I forgot the password. They didn’t deport me. Then again, I’m not Arab.

    It’s an amazingly vile business.

    • seafoid says:

      It’s vile but it is the only way to keep their grubby ethnocracy going.
      From their POV palestinian activists are like computer viruses and they are the anti virus software.

      BDS will eventually cut off the electricity supply that powers the computer.

    • hophmi says:

      But you got in, and you wrote your book, Pamela, didn’t you?

      • Cliff says:

        Another superficial and ignorant straw man by hoppie.

      • Pamela Olson says:

        Yes, I did. So? Do you wish I had been caught in the dragnet, too?

        They did, in fact, successfully “convince” me to “voluntarily” deport myself. I moved away in the end because I couldn’t take the disgusting treatment — and constant threat of deportation — at the border anymore.

        I know people who likewise couldn’t handle it and never went back (people with any Arabic in their names or features get MUCH WORSE treatment, and believe me, the things I hear about have nothing to do with security and everything about humiliation), and others who bravely soldier on month after month, submitting to these horrors for nothing more than the ability to live in their home, the land of their ancestors (and often of their birth).

        The Israeli process isn’t a 100% rejection machine. But it is a misery machine you can probably barely imagine, and the rejection — both compulsory and “voluntary” — is enough to negatively affect and disrupt countless innocent lives.

        What next snarky thing would you like to say?

  2. Citizen says:

    Israel excludes American visitors who are of Arab/Muslim descent ipso facto, yet US Israel First congress critters are now pushing for the first exception to US visa reciprocity policy, to allow any Jewish Israeli in US easily, but allow Israel to exclude visitors on bases of their ethnic and/or Muslim background. Dick and Jane have no clue. And Chris Matthews was discussing the fact Bush Jr and Chaney are forever tied historically to the Iran War fiasco, and Chris discusses Scooter Libby, his pardon, his importance to both Bush Jr and Chaney–without ever mentioning Libby was a fanatical Jewish Zionist who changed his name. Happy TV news viewing in America.

  3. Kathleen says:

    If they do email searches how the heck does Phil get in?

    • Eva Smagacz says:

      Kathleen,
      I think they rarely, if ever, choose to do this to Jews – the really ugly part is racial profiling.

    • seafoid says:

      Phil is entitled to get in under the Law of Return, Kathleen. Those are the rules, even if he doesn’t agree with them.

      • Kathleen says:

        Medea, Norm, Noam…. How does Max get in he definitely stirs it up. And clearly so does Phil

        • seafoid says:

          Maybe they have a traction index. Or Phil is assessed as a cosmopolitan who is just misguided. Maybe they think his mother will bring him back to the path of truth. Perhaps the notion that they know what they are doing is deluded. Maybe his mother is in touch with the airport bots. Who knows?

          I think he is probably more dangerous than the others but they don’t see it. It could be sort of like that dreadful wedding song “the Rose” .

          When the night has been too lonely
          And the road has been too long
          And you think that fake Jewish values are only
          For the lucky and the strong
          Just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snows
          Lies the seed
          That with the sun’s love
          In the spring
          Becomes Menschheit

        • Citizen says:

          @ Kathleen
          But Finklestein, Atzmon, Chomsky, a few others are banned. I guess Phil has not stirred up enough trouble for Israel yet? He’s small potatoes, and he’d write an article on his blog here about how he was banned or kicked out of Israel?

    • OlegR says:

      3) options.
      A) Nobody payed attention to him yet.
      Hot exactly high profile like Chomsky or Finkelstein.
      B) The did pay attention and are not interested in making a fuss.
      C) Phil is not an active player he just covers stuff in his own manner one of many,
      he does not actively participate in demonstrations or tries to stir shit up.

  4. Daniel Rich says:

    This may sound odd, but I’d rather deal with a government being open about its intrusiveness than one pretending to be not.

    • Accentitude says:

      Your comment is a little confusing. So if they’re pretending not to be…open…does that mean that they are open but don’t talk about it? Is that like a cute girl playing hard to get?

      • hophmi says:

        It means that government do extensive background checks on foreign travelers all the time, but Israel is the only one who is honest about it. How was it getting into Saudi Arabia? Oh wait, they don’t have tourists.

        • Citizen says:

          @ hophmi
          Yeah, Saudi Arabia appears to not be ready for non-piligrim or non-business tourists: link to world.time.com

          Then again, I never met an American who thought Saudi Arabia was anything but a backward, totally intolerant country which happens to have tons of oil. It’s government does not claim to be a democracy. Every American knows the only value the country has is as a big oil resource–and the Saudi regime pays through the nose big bucks to get US weapons, always older stuff, while Israel gets the latest cutting edge weapons from the USS–for free.

        • K Renner says:

          ha, ha. Yes, Saudi Arabia is the one nation that defines the soul of the Arab peoples.

          You’re an ignoramus.

        • Cliff says:

          Israel does no extensive background checks for security.

          It abuses people it views as enemies of Zionism so that they cannot visit the Palestinians in the PALESTINIAN territories.

          This is about humiliation. Dirtbag fascists with a little bit of power abusing it so people cannot help the Palestinians endure people like you!

        • Accentitude says:

          What does Saudi Arabia have to do with this article? Nothing.
          By the way, how was it proving you’re ignorant? You mean to tell me that in all of Saudi Arabia there isn’t one single tourist? B.S. My sister-in-law and her family are there right this very second. Oh and before you turn this into a religious issue…no, they’re not Muslims.

  5. I just recently met and have started dating a woman that is a Russian Jew who served for a time in the IDF. She’s sweet and gentle but I’d have to guess a little myopic on the whole IP conflict (yet smart as a whip). I don’t press it at the moment but tell her of some of my activities and truth-telling Jewish heroes. When I asked her where her favorite places to eat were, she smiled broadly and said, “Israel!”

    If we ever tried travelling together there, I would certainly be bullied by the members of the Zio-goon squad for my record of commenting. This is both disturbing and an outrage. Maybe one day I’ll use that as a foray into one of the many reasons I have a problem with such a disfunctional society.

  6. pabelmont says:

    It would be so simple, so “nice”, and such a savings of time and money if Israel would ask, when you apply for a VISA, “do you harbor pro-Palestine (or anti-Israel) feelings or opinions?” and deny the VISA if you do. Also advise of whatever email search they intend to perform upon arrival. OF COURSE you give them your password if you use your password to log-in to your email-server — they can make you use THEIR computer and do a keystroke capture. Or make a video of you typing your password on your own computer.

    Thaty they do NOT do this shows that their purpose is to harass. similarly, sending people home before they’ve visited is pure harassment. Why should your political opinions matter? Security is different from thought police. One would have thought.

  7. a blah chick says:

    Okay, here’s what I don’t understand. Why doesn’t Israel vet these furrin ne’er do wells in their home country? In other words why are the embassies giving these people permission to travel to The Only Democracy in the Middle East only to be subjected to cavity searches and rude behavior.

    Here is what should happen. Every person who wishes to travel to The Only Democracy in the Middle East should have to undergo an orientation at their nearest Israeli embassy. At said orientation, to be administered by burly, hairy chested security guys, you will be cavity searched and have your laptop checked. You will be required to present no less than three (3) references from Jewish acquaintances and two of them must be committed Zionists. Then you will be brought into a room with other fellow travelers and told that under no circumstances are you to talk to ANY Arabs while there or to photograph any Jews behaving badly. After that you will be handed your visa by one of the burly hairy chest security men and told that had this been the Syrian embassy you would have been gang raped before getting that visa… and have a nice day.

    • Accentitude says:

      Yes, but its hardly the “only democracy in the Middle East.” It is the only Apartheid in the Middle East, I’ll give you that.

      • Walid says:

        Are these email intrusions any less offensive than the full body cavity searches that Pamela mentioned?

        Are they any less offensive than Israel, the US offshore spy ships, German offshore spy ships, the UK listening base on Cyprus and local governments simultaneously monitoring every land and cell phone call and internet activity of all eastern Med countries?

        email searches are nasty, but Israel is known for much worse.

  8. Mike_Konrad says:

    However, the examination of email accounts must be carried out in the presence of the individual.

    I doubt it will be limited to that.

    What they are not mentioning is that even if it is done only in the presence of the person, all the access information can be stored in the wi-fi logs. They can access it later on.

    The way to defeat this is to set up a new gmail or hotmail account about three months before you go, and load it up with Zionist email requests.

    Before you leave …

    1) Totally reformat your laptop.

    2) Change your mac # if you know how. If you do not know how, google it.

    3) Re-install your software.

    4) Add CCleaner, and clean all your dead space

    5) Defrag your laptop.

    I am not anti-Israel. I would recommend this no matter who is doing the intrusions.

    Your wi-fi logs will give them access information once you leave.

    So when you get back to the USA.

    Repeat the process, again. So they cannot track you in the USA.

    Any contacts outside Israel during that time, should be done only to temporary emailers. Even temp Skype names.

    Once you return home. Erase everything. Do not forward anything to your old mails. Erase everything.

    I design websites. I am not a computer experts; but I know a bit.

    I am in favor of Israel’s security.

    I am against snooping.

    • Accentitude says:

      They can also easily activate a keylogger before they hand you the keyboard to log in for them. Then after you’ve either passed through and officially begun your vacation or are in mid-flight on your back to wherever you came from, they can add your email account and password to a database to be used, logged in, etc…whenever they want. Be smart folks, after you talk to these guys…change your passwords as soon as you can. It would be extremely naive to think that the Israelis…particularly Shin Bet and Mossad who have a long documented history of fraud, identity theft, etc…wouldn’t take advantage of such an opportunity.

      • Mike_Konrad says:

        Better yet, buy a temporary cheap disposable laptop off of Craigslist.

        Using the temporary laptop — set up temporary email accounts at Hotmail, and gmail.

        Set up temporary accounts at Flickr, Photobucket and Google Plus.

        Set up all these account USING wifi at MacDonalds. Do not use your home puter.

        In Israel and after you return, Upload what you need to keep to Flicker, Photobucket, and Google Plus.

        ONLY MEDIA FILES (jpgs, png, wmv, audio and video files) and TEXT FILES. NO program files.

        All of those should be uploaded to temporarily setup accounts, set up on the temporary laptop, using Wifi at a McDonalds before you left.

        Then download the files from Google Plus, Photobucket, and Flickr.

        Download to a flash drive. Then scan.

        There should only be text files (doc, text) Or media files (jpgs, wmvs, audio and video files, pngs, gif)

        DO NOT DOWNLOAD ANYTHING ELSE.

        Erase and close out your temporary accounts.

        Erase all your temporary files from the laptop.

        USE CCLEANER.

        Then donate the laptop to a church after you cleaned of it of all files you created while in Israel.

        ————————

        I am in favor of Israeli security; but even as much as I like Israel, I do not like intrustiveness from anyone.

  9. Taxi says:

    Israeli airport security personnel are like thought-police and underpant sniffers rolled into one.

  10. douglasreed says:

    Jerusalem, situated in Israel, is an international city by resolution of the United Nations.

    This attempt to restrict access to the Holy City is a clear violation of international law and denies freedom of access to Christians, Muslims and even Jews who are considered undesirable by the right wing Likud government of Binyamin Netanyahu. It should be strenuously resisted by the free world.

  11. Erasmus says:

    Harassing Immigration Inquiries + Email – and Body Search upon Arrival and Departure = Welcome to Israel,

    - the international pariah and notorious international law violator;
    - the Human Rights violator on a daily basis;
    - ……….
    Surely no destination for vacations.

    Re Kathleen : “If they do email searches how the heck does Phil get in?”

    Don’t forget – Phil is Jewish, at least sort of.

  12. Accentitude says:

    I’ve been taking some precautions to avoid any unpleasant situations that could stem from some of these so-called “legal” searches. First up is to create an easy to remember disposable email account which you should fill with crappy newsletter subscriptions, spam, dumb [non-political] memes, and those lame chain emails full of jokes and cute picture of puppies. Shin Bet would have a fun time going through that. The trick is to know several months ahead of time, preferably a year, when you will be traveling into Isrsael so that it could “naturally” fill up with said crap mail. b/c if the account is new and all the emails have the same date then that’s a dead giveaway that its deterrent. Even if you’re not traveling anytime soon, it’s good to have one and regularly fill it with useless stuff…makes it more fun for security to read through for sure. Name it something dumb like FuzzyBunnySlippersofd00m or [email protected]….You get the idea.

    In the end, its your word against theirs as to whether this is really your email or not. They can’t fault you either way. They asked to see it and you’ve shown it. What more could they want?

    Second is…anything of importance that is on your laptop that needs to be accessed during your travels should be removed from your laptop and uploaded to a private online cloud-based storage account like Mediafire. Once you’re on the other side, you can just download the files you want or open them up directly from your browser.

    • Mike_Konrad says:

      Second is…anything of importance that is on your laptop that needs to be accessed during your travels should be removed from your laptop and uploaded to a private online cloud-based storage account like Mediafire. Once you’re on the other side, you can just download the files you want or open them up directly from your browser.

      Buy a used laptop from craigslist in cash.

      Use the used laptop to set up the temporary accounts in Flickr, GooglePlus, Hotmail, gmail, and Photobucket.

      Only use the laptop at free wifi places like MacDonalds or libraries where you do NOT have to sign in.

      This is the key.

      Only send and receives. txt files, doc files, wmv files, png, jpgs, audio and video files.

      NEVER UPLOAD A PROGRAM. NEVER

      Set up all your temp accounts using the temporary laptop and anonymous wifi.

      When you come back and you have downloaded your media and text – agalin at a wifi.

      Then clean the computer of temp files, close your accounts, and donate the computer to a charity.

  13. RE: “The Israeli attorney general has announced that security officials can demand to search foreigners’ e-mail accounts when they try to enter the country.” ~ Alex Kane

    IN THE WAKE OF THE BOSTON BOMBINGS, a “National Security Expert” on Fox Faux News said that the U.S. is like a 14-year-old teenager going through “security puberty”; and we must demand that our government “get on the Israeli page”! ! !
    On the Wish List from the Boston Bombings – The Israelization of America (Fox News) [VIDEO, 00:25] – link to youtube.com

    • Dickerson,
      You bring up a valid point, and one that should be of concern to all of us. Given the bleed-through between US and Israeli security personnel in terms of training and relations I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an attempt in some quarters to implement email checks of visitors and, at some point, probably American citizens in airports here. I think this is something that could be on the horizon and another example of an Israeli ‘innovation’ that we could all do without.

  14. seafoid says:

    Jewish state, sovereignty, eternal homeland, no worse than Syria, antisemitic to single it out, yada yada.

    I don’t know of any other OECD country where emails of incoming tourists are opened by airport security.

    why is Israel the only OECD country running this ideology?

  15. soysauce says:

    If you set up a dummy email account to get around this intrusion, make sure your flight itinerary for your trip is in the fake account.

    • OlegR says:

      10x i’ll make sure that the ShBet agents at the BGA will check for signs of recently open mail accounts…

    • RoHa says:

      Even easier, don’t take a computer or similar device into the country.
      It is possible to live without such things for a short time.

      • soysauce says:

        It’s not that easy. I did not have a computer or phone with me. The Shin Bet bully turned his screen around with the gmail home page up and old me to ‘log in’. They will want to see that it is your working account and will ask you to retrieve your flight info.

  16. ritzl says:

    The Google data-mining R&D facility is in Tel Aviv. Just sayin’…

  17. EUR1069 says:

    Why would anyone want to travel to Israel in the first place?

    • Taxi says:

      My very sentiment, my dear!

    • American says:

      Exactly. Someone in Egypt or Jordon should set up a helicopter service for Gaza and Palestine….by pass their checkpoints and challenge Isr’s control.
      They should at least open a airport or landing strip and get Isr all hot and bothered and make a legal case out of it.
      Isr isn’t challenged enough.

      • Walid says:

        You’re banging on the wrong doors to have them challenge Israel. One is enforcing the Gaza closure while the other has opened its airspace to the bad guys’ drones.

  18. IL1948 says:

    Good to hear this news.

    Hopefully it will keep dipshits like you out of the country, Alex.

    • Accentitude says:

      @IL1948 – What constitutes Dipshittyness? His reporting what is really happening or you not being happy with how it differentiates from the desperate PR campaign that attempts to paint Israel as a democratic, open and welcome society and makes your racist ethnocentric apartheid state look bad.