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Israeli Attorney General allows investigators to check tourists' e-mails

February 15, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein agreed on Wednesday to have the e-mail of tourists visiting Israel to be checked by the Israeli Shin Bet; otherwise they will be banned from entering the country, Israeli newspaper Haaretz said.

Weinstein’s agreement came as a response to a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). “These procedures are performed only in exceptional instances, after other relevant incriminating indications are found,” he said.

ACRI filed the petition after a case of an American tourist who wanted to visit Israel and was asked for her e-mail to be checked at Ben-Gurion airport. She refused to have her e-mail checked and was denied entry that time.

The human rights organisation insisted that this procedure was a serious violation of privacy and human dignity.

The Attorney General also responded: “At issue is a procedure, the implementation of which is conditioned on the traveller’s consent, and he is not required to give the investigator his passwords… but rather the traveller opens the email account himself.”

But when the traveller insists not to having his e-mail checked by the investigators, he/she might be denied entry to the country; the same as what happened with the aforementioned case.

“It should be stressed that the traveller is given the full right to object to this search. In such a case the search will not be imposed on him, although it will be made clear that his refusal will be one of the considerations taken into account when the authorities decide whether to allow his entry into Israel,” Weinstein said in his response, which was cleared by his assistant Nadeem Aboud.

He also said that as far as the traveller is not an Israeli, the authorities have the right to deal with him the right way they see appropriate to protect the state in regard to security issues.

Weinstein said: “A person who is not an Israeli citizen has no vested right to enter Israel. The authority for allowing entry lies with the competent authority. The rule is, that when this authority exercises its power, it will naturally take into account the security of the public and the state.”

Haaretz reported ACRI attorney Lila Margalit saying that after a person has paid for a flight, made the trip and then learned upon arrival that refusing to open his email could lead to denial of entry cannot be assumed to be giving consent to such a search of his own free will.

“A person’s inbox is like a window to his soul,” said Margalit. “It provides a real look into his private life.”

According to Margalit, the General Security Service Law does not give Shin Bet the authority to search email accounts. “In every other context, as I understand Israeli law, a warrant is needed before this can be done,” she said.