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

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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 a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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