Top Israeli lawyer rebuffs criticism of email checks at border

JERUSALEM Wed Apr 24, 2013 3:21pm EDT

Israel's Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem February 14, 2010. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israel's Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem February 14, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's top legal adviser on Wednesday rebuffed criticism of authorities for asking travelers entering the Jewish state to show border officers their emails, saying the checks affecting only certain foreign nationals were lawful.

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein's written legal opinion was given in response to a query by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) which first questioned the practice last year.

On Wednesday the group called the checks a "drastic invasion of privacy ... not befitting a democracy".

Israel's security agencies have been keen to stop pro-Palestinian activists they suspect may be planning anti-Israel activities in the occupied West Bank or inside the Jewish state.

Weinstein said officers of the internal undercover security service, the Shin Bet, needed "to establish or dispel suspicion against prospective foreign nationals wishing to enter Israel who show initial suspicious signs".

He said officers were not allowed to access email accounts without the consent of the owner and added that travelers could refuse to cooperate. This did not necessarily mean they would automatically be barred entry.

"The traveler is not asked to reveal passwords ... but opens the account on their own. The traveler has a full right to refuse the search and will not be forced to comply, although this will be taken into account when the authorities decide whether to allow the person to enter Israel," he said.

Marc Grey, an ACRI attorney, said the issue was not so much the matter of revealing the email account's password but the actual perusal of the private content in the mailbox.

"Passwords are not the issue, email accounts are about as private as it gets," Grey told Reuters.

He said he did not know how many travelers to Israel had been asked to open their email accounts.

Lila Margalit, another ACRI attorney, said travelers were not on an equal footing when they faced questioning.

"A tourist ... to Israel (who is) 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," she wrote in an email distributed on Wednesday.

"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."

(Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Andrew Roche)

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Comments (2)
Jerusalem, situated in Israel, is an international city by resolution of he United Nations.

This attempt to restrict access to the Holy City is a clear violation of international law and denies freedom of access to Christians, Muslims and even Jews who are considered undesirable by the right wing Likud government of Binyamin Netanyahu. It should be strenuously resisted by the free world.

Apr 24, 2013 5:18pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
GaborFrankl wrote:
Reuters is a well-known anti-Israel fake news source habitually lieing and manipulating events (often photos and phoitoshopping pictures like both in the 2006 II. Lebanon war, and later the flotilla Mavi Marmara Turkish IHH-terrorists’ boat events), an org. that has been totally discredited by its many scandals of misreporting and blatant anti-Israel, pro-Palesinian, pro-Arab bias in general involving anything Israeli. This poorly written trashis virtually dripping with bias and hatred, too. True to form for Al-Reuters.

Apr 28, 2013 6:50am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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