Israel tourists face email inspections
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 April 2013 12.53 EDT
Israel’s internal security agency has been authorised to demand “suspicious” foreign travellers open their personal email accounts for inspection on entry to the country.
Shin Bet officials have been given approval for such action in what they deem to be exceptional cases by Israel’s attorney-general, Yehuda Weinstein, despite a petition to overrule the measure by a leading civil rights group.
“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.
Emails may be examined for incriminating information, which may be relevant to public or national security, wrote Avod. Foreign travellers can refuse to co-operate, but may be denied entry as a result.
The attorney-general’s approval of the measure follows a petition lodged by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), based on media reports of individuals being requested to disclose email correspondence during interrogation at Ben Gurion airport.
One case reported by Associated Press concerned Sandra Tamari, a 42-year-old American citizen of Palestinian descent, who was suspected of being a pro-Palestinian activist. Tamari declined to give Shin Bet officials access to her email account and was refused entry to Israel.
Lila Margalit, a lawyer for ACRI, said: “‘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.”
Security at Ben Gurion airport is notoriously rigorous. Passengers are routinely questioned on the purpose of their visit, luggage is frequently searched by hand and some travellers are forced to undergo strip-searches.