In response to an inquiry from ACRI regarding reports of authorities requiring access to tourists’ email accounts before allowing them into the country, the Attorney General’s office has confirmed its approval of the practice.
Attorney Lila Margalit, Director of Human Rights in the Criminal Process Program at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) wrote a letter to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein in June 2012, following reports in the news and in social media of foreign nationals visiting Israel being asked by the GSS (“Shin Bet”) for access to their personal email accounts during interrogations in Ben Gurion Airport. According to media reports at the time, a visitor who refused was denied entry, as was a visitor who complied.
In a response dated April 24, 2013, the Attorney General’s office confirmed this practice, asserting that such searches are made in exceptional cases where “relevant suspicious signs” are observed, and that they are conducted with the foreign national’s “consent”. However, the Attorney General’s office also noted that while a tourist may refuse such a search, “it will be made clear to him that his refusal will be taken into consideration along with other relevant factors, in deciding whether to allow him entry to Israel.”
ACRI Attorney Lila Margalit said in response: “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.”