Foreign citizens visiting Israel may be asked to open their email accounts for airport security when they land at Ben-Gurion International Airport, the Attorney-General's Office stated Wednesday in response to a petition by a leading Israeli civil rights group.
"The threat of using foreign citizens for terrorist purposes is a growing trend," the Attorney-General's Office warned, in a missive to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which had petitioned the Justice Ministry to overrule such invasive security measures. "Searching an email account is to be carried out in exceptional cases only after suspicious or pertinent information has been identified [by Shin Bet personnel]."
Though the Israel Security Agency [Shin Bet] can request access to an email account before the passenger passes customs and leaves the airport, it cannot demand passwords or personal information that would allow the agency itself to access private accounts. Rather, Shin Bet staff may ask the traveler to open his or her account in view of security personnel, who can then check emails for incriminating evidence that may be relevant to issues of public or national security, wrote lawyer Nadim Avod writing on behalf of the Attorney-General's Office.
In addition, the traveler can refuse access to his or her personal email to security personnel, but Shin Bet agents at Ben-Gurion airport can consequently deny the traveler entry to Israel. Avod cited the law of entry to Israel, written in 1952, which states that a foreigner does not have the explicit right to enter the country. The relevant authorities -- in this case the Shin Bet -- decide who can enter and who cannot, the statement explained, and in such cases of exceptional suspicion, access to private email may be required.
The Attorney-General's Office was responding to a petition by ACRI, which said that asking for passwords to email or social media accounts is against Israeli law. ACRI asked the Justice Ministry to clarify its position after reports in various media, such as The Associated Press, reported that airport security personnel had demanded Arab travelers open their email accounts.
The Associated Press reports that "The [Shin Bet] agent, suspecting [Sandra] Tamari was involved in pro-Palestinian activism, wanted to inspect her private email account for incriminating evidence. The 42-year-old American of Palestinian descent refused and was swiftly expelled from the country."
ACRI attorney Lila Margalit said, “Invading a computer or an email account constitutes a grave violation of privacy and dignity."
The Attorney-General's Office seemed to agree that requesting a password would be illegal, but stressed that the incidents in question were exceptional cases where security personnel did not ask for passwords, but rather asked the traveler to log in so his or her accounts could be surveyed.