Israel OKs checking of foreigners’ emails at border

Israel OKs checking of foreigners’ emails at border

Israel OKs checking of foreigners’ emails at border

Israeli security personnel may ask visitors to open their e-mail accounts if they are perceived as being suspicious, according to ruling. If entrants refuse to allow their e-mails to be checked, they won’t be allowed to enter the country. REUTERS Photo

Israel’s attorney general upheld a practice on April 24 to allow security personnel to read people’s email accounts when they arrive at the airport, arguing it helps prevent militants from entering the country.

The ruling followed an outcry last year when a group of people trying to enter Israel were ordered to open their emails after hours of interrogation at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport. In one instance, three Palestinian-American women were forbidden from entering after email checks were conducted.

Critics say the practice primarily targets Muslims and Arabs and appears to be aimed at keeping out visitors who have histories of pro-Palestinian activism, citing a history of such people being turned away from Israel’s border crossings.

Security personnel may ask visitors to open their email accounts for inspection if they are perceived as being suspicious, wrote Nadim Aboud of Israel’s attorney general office. In a response to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), he said potential entrants may refuse to allow their emails to be checked, but that would be a factor in deciding whether a person would be allowed to enter the country.

The examination of email accounts must be carried out in the presence of the individual. The authorization stopped short of permitting security officers to demand passwords or other information that would allow email accounts to be accessed by officers.

Aboud said the checks were justified because there was an increasing risk of foreigners being involved in militant activity. He said security services could not properly investigate the backgrounds of some potential entrants without the additional check. A Justice Ministry official said searches were conducted only in “extraordinary cases.” He was speaking anonymously, in line with ministry policy.

The attorney general’s office wrote the letter in response to a request for clarification by ACRI after incidents were reported last year, said attorney Lila Margalit of the organization. She said Aboud’s response effectively legalized the checks, which could now be challenged only in court.

“It was a concern because of the level of invasion inherent in [checking] a personal email account,” Margalit said. “It constitutes a violation of privacy.” She said that inside Israel, police could search a person’s computer data only with court approval, even if there was a criminal investigation underway.

Israeli officials tend to conduct exhaustive checks on foreigners entering the country, or passing through border crossings they control, if they are deemed suspicious. There are no statistics on how many people are refused entry into Israel, or through border crossings that Israel controls.

One aspect of the issue is that most people entering Israel obtain visas at the airport or other border crossings. Unlike many countries, Israel does not require people to obtain visas from their embassies in advance of their trips, eliminating possible screening before visitors arrive in Israel.