© Associated PressA security inspector searches a traveler's bag at Ben Gurion Airport. Recently, several tourists thought to be pro-Palestinian activists were asked by security agents to open their Gmail accounts.
Shin Bet Security Service personnel can proceed to access emails of tourists landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said Wednesday, choosing not to interfere with the procedure. He noted that such searches "are performed only in exceptional instances, after other relevant incriminating indications are found."

Responding to a complaint filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Weinstein, in a response issued by his assistant, Nadeem Abboud, said, "given the limitations of intelligence coverage and the difficulty of obtaining relevant information about foreign citizens, the questioning conducted at the border crossings by the representative of the Shin Bet carries weight in bolstering or refuting the suspicions against a foreign national wanting to enter."

ACRI had filed its query with Weinstein following a story that appeared in Haaretz last June about tourists whose entry was denied after their emails were searched, or after they refused to allow the investigators access. The association argued that this procedure was a serious violation of privacy and human dignity.

The response continued: "At issue is a procedure whose implementation is conditioned on the traveler's consent, and he isn't required to give the investigator his passwords (...) but rather, the traveler opens the email account himself. It should be stressed that the traveler is given the full right to object to this search, and in such a case the search won't 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 also said that under the Law of Entry, "A person who isn't 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."

The attorney general also clarified that the Shin Bet's authority to conduct searches at the border crossings is codified in the General Security Service Law, and not in the Criminal Procedure Ordinance, as ACRI had stated.

ACRI attorney Lila Margalit said 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 doesn't give the 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.