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I've read that going through airport security at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport can sometimes be a nightmare. Being asked a bunch of questions and having someone going through your every single item, in a room away from your sight, appears to be normal.

In some cases, passengers are asked to strip so they can take their clothes somewhere else to be checked (for what, I do not know). What worries me the most is that some people have been forced to provide their access credentials to their devices (laptop, tablet, smartphone) and certain websites (facebook, gmail). I also read a comment in a blog post where a woman claimed the airport security placed a computer in front of her and ordered her to login into her facebook account, and then made fun of her photos (I cannot find the post, I believe it has been deleted).

I would dislike being stripped searched but I can live with that. However, providing my access credentials to my electronic devices or email account, for example, is something I'm 100% against. It is a gross invasion of privacy. I have nothing to hide but that does not mean I want someone going through my stuff. Not to mention that once they access my device, usually out of one's sight, I have no guarantee they did not install a rootkit.

I'm traveling to Israel for a few days on business. My laptop is full of work-related data whereas my phone does contain private data (photos, messages, phone numbers).

  • If I'm asked for my access credentials, can I refuse it? In other words, am I legally forced to provide my username and/or password even when airport security does not have a search warrant?
  • What would be the consequences of doing so?
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    Can you refuse, yes. Can they make your life miserable until you do say ok, yes. It is their country, their rules. Your rights to privacy, the laws about search warrants, etc in your home country have no legal standing in another country. You have to play by the local rules. – user13044 Mar 4 '16 at 10:24
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    @Tom - that doesn't necessarily mean that the actions described by the OP are either A) Likley or B) Necessarily legal in Israel. – CMaster Mar 4 '16 at 10:39
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    @Tom I disagree. The OP never seems to assume that they have a right to refuse these things. They ask specifically about the local legality or not, of something that they personally object to. It's worth noting that even then "Can you refuse? Yes." is not true in many places. In the UK for example you can be legally complelled to provide login information or encryption keys, and face severe penalties for refusing. – CMaster Mar 4 '16 at 10:56
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    @CMaster - "when airport security does not have a search warrant" is a page straight out of the US mindset. But ultimately this is the comment section where we can discuss aspects not directly related to answering the OP's question. – user13044 Mar 4 '16 at 11:01
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    @Tom search warrants are a common concept, even in jurisdictions outside the common-law tradition. "Is a warrant required for such-and-such in Israel" is a perfectly reasonable question, for example. – phoog Mar 4 '16 at 15:40
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To directly answer the title question, it appears that the answer is "Yes, if you want to enter the country." You might be able to refuse the request, but then you might be denied entry.

The following information is from the advice that the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs provides to U.S. citizens traveling to Israel:

Video cameras and other electronic items must be declared upon entry to Israel. Carrying such audio-visual or data storage/processing equipment may lead to additional security-related delays, and some travelers have had their laptop computers and other electronic equipment searched at Ben Gurion Airport. While most items are returned prior to the traveler’s departure, some equipment has been retained by the authorities for lengthy periods and has reportedly been damaged, destroyed, lost, or never returned.

Also,

Israeli security officials have also on occasion requested access to travelers’ personal e-mail accounts or other social media accounts as a condition of entry. In such circumstances, travelers should have no expectation of privacy for any data stored on such devices or in their accounts. Audio-visual/IT equipment may also be confiscated for security reasons. Such property will not be returned to the traveler. There is no redress for such confiscations.

Source: travel.state.gov Country Information for Israel

While this information is targeted to U.S. citizens, I rather doubt that the situation is significantly different for German citizens.

  • "To directly answer the title question, it appears that the answer is "Yes.." - I believe the the title has the word force in it .. That would make the direct answer, no - they can not force . "requested access" !== "forced" . – Obmerk Kronen Jun 20 '16 at 16:18
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    If there is an heavy penalty that comes with the request - such as denial of entry and loss of the flight ticket, it's not just a "request". Or if you go that way, a thug threatening to beat you up for the content of your wallet is also just making a "request". – Sylverdrag Jun 20 '16 at 17:34
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    @daniel - maybe , 3 month after your question was posted, you will actually tell all of us what happened to you in that trip and if it was really the "nightmare" you describe .. That would be much more constructive than all the speculations that people ( whom I would venture a guess - never really went to Israel ) write here .. – Obmerk Kronen Jun 20 '16 at 23:31
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    @ObmerkKronen How exactly is quoting the U.S. State Department "speculation?" Furthermore, the two links that you posted in a comment agree with what I've stated and quoted here. At any rate, I have nothing against Israel (and am planning a trip there myself in a few months,) I just didn't see any answers that cited anything other than personal anecdote, so I thought it would be useful to add one. Also, for whatever it's worth, I didn't downvote your answer. I was just curious what your sources were. – reirab Jun 21 '16 at 0:00
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    And as a final note . This whole question and successive discussion is a bit bizarre - because it refers to social media or accounts - that no airport security personal in the world can even know if a passenger possess. They can ask for your facebook account, and you can say " I do not use facebook " . or gmail. or github . regarding login to computer itself - like I wrote in my answer - this is not unique to Israel and is a standard procedure in many airports to demonstrate that your device actually works. – Obmerk Kronen Jun 21 '16 at 23:38
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Security at Ben Gurion Airport frequently ask you to log in to your laptop in order to ascertain that it's really yours. This happens both to Israeli citizens and people who travel to Israel. There is nothing strange about this and if asked, the best course of action is to do this immediately and without hesitation.

Asking you to log in to your private email or social networks is a different matter. This is extremely uncommon, as is strip searching for that matter. I really wouldn't worry about it.

If however the security personnel does ask you to do this: I am not a lawyer and cannot say whether you're legally obliged to do it. However, here the famous saying "Don't be right, be smart" is very relevant. It doesn't matter if you legally don't have to do this—if you don't and they detain you for a day and then refuse you entry into the country, is it really worth it? And even if they don't deport you but just detain and you lose a day from your trip, is it worth it? (again, not a lawyer, but pretty sure you can be detained for up to 2 days without seeing a lawyer or judge and without any charges whatsoever).

Again, the above scenario is super extremely unlikely, but if they ask you to do something non-standard like this, it probably means you're already suspicious—so it's best not to make the security angry at you for no reason, and cooperate in any way you can.

The question about the rootkit is really beside the point—you either trust the security or you don't. If you don't, you probably shouldn't be flying, because airport security in most countries (especially in the US) has "freedoms" and capabilities far beyond your neighborhood police officer. Israel is not an exception. Speaking of trust—from my experience with airport security in many countries, openly showing mistrust in them never leads to anything good. Here too, Israel is not an exception.

  • The "especially in the US" part is wrong. Airport security has far less power than police in the U.S. In general, they are not law enforcement officers at all and must call in actual police if they need to detain you for any reason. – reirab Jun 20 '16 at 14:47
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    Submitting to an abuse of power isn't "smart". It's the main reason why abuse of power can exist. If no one complied, they wouldn't even try. As for trusting the airport security staff, well, trust isn't an absolute value. Would I trust them with my passport? Sure. Would I trust them with full access to my main source of income and hope they don't abuse it? Not a chance. – Sylverdrag Jun 20 '16 at 17:45
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    By the way, while we are on the "you should trust security personnel" thing, have a look at the list of crimes TSA personnel have been found guilty of: tsascandals.wordpress.com. A long string of rapists, murderers, terrorists, pedophiles - just because security personnel wears a uniform and carries a badge doesn't mean you can implicitly trust them. – Sylverdrag Jun 20 '16 at 18:03
  • As I said, if you consider airport security to be a fundamental abuse of power, you probably shouldn't be flying. If you consider a specific action (like logging in to social networks) a fundamental abuse of power, you probably shouldn't fly to the countries where this is part of airport security. In Israel, this is not normal but it might happen, so it's up to you to decide if you want to fly there. As for the TSA crimes, that's not really relevant to Israel. If you believe this is a widespread phenomenon in Israel (it isn't), you should probably avoid flying there. – Ynhockey Jun 29 '16 at 7:19
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    @Sylverdrag: I think you will find that Israel employs much more qualified personnel than the USA, who understand "security" and not "security theatre". – gnasher729 May 23 '17 at 5:30
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When I went to Israel I had no problems flying in or out. I'm white and blonde. My friend who is olive skinned and brunette was stopped both times and her bags were searched and she was detained for questioning for about half an hour. No log ins requested though. A month ago friend of mine went to Israel on birthright. Also brown hair and darker skin. She extended the trip and took a weekend trip to Italy for part of the time. They wouldn't let her back into Israel (where she had a connecting flight to the US) until she let them see her facebook. She had to unlock all electronic devices...and sing the dreidle song to prove how Jweish she was. So basically, depending on what you look like, you have a good chance of having your devices searched.

But what another poster said is true, you don't like it, don't go. I loved Israel, but I don't go there to visit in large part due to how uncomfortable their border security officers made me.

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Security personnel have quite a wide range to operate in Israel when searching a suspect. And if you are flagged for search, that is exactly what you are. I know it is annoying, but as always with security it's for your own good and for a good reason. In their minds they are stopping a terrorist, until proven else where.
Please note that most chances are that you will not be searched at all. The majority of travelers leave Israel without any hassle what so ever. If you are going for work, you can ask whom ever invited you to provide a letter that helps when leaving. Some big organization can do a sort of "pre screening" that makes it all much much easier. Be honest and cooperative with the security people. Refusing to give access is not a good idea, sometimes they can even take your devices away from you (extremely rare, but has happened). No bots will be installed and nothing will be stolen.

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    "No bots will be installed" you know this how ? – blackbird Apr 5 '16 at 15:49
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    "as always with security it's for your own good" I'd argue it's actually for everyone else's good – blackbird Apr 5 '16 at 15:50
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    If you are about to do harm, then yes, it's for everyone else's good to have you checked thoroughly. How I know? Can't quite share for your own good ;-) – YTraveler Apr 7 '16 at 9:18
  • The presumption of innocence is a fundamental human right (which are endorsed by Israël - at least on paper). And you are contradicting yourself. "Nothing stolen" and "sometimes they can even take your devices away from you" are not compatible notions. Taking property away from somebody without consent IS theft. As for the "for your own good", airport security is essentially for a bad joke. Security is only as good as the weakest link and the weakest link isn't even in the airport. All these hoops we are made to jump through are of no benefit to the passengers. – Sylverdrag Jun 20 '16 at 17:56
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Israel Security is a "nightmare" as you have described it , only if you turn it into one in your head .

The reason they are asking you to login to you computer, is only to assure that it is yours and that you are not transporting someone's else computer ( one of the questions they ask you is if everything you carry is yours ..).

Another reason is to see that the computer is functional and it is not a masked device ...

In my visits to Israel on business I was asked to turn on or login to many devices , from cameras to HD to electrical drillers to welders.... Nothing to do with your social profiles.

After YOU ( not they ) log into the computer , that is it . they themselves will not touch your computer . They are not allowed to . Nor do they want.

Can you refuse ? YES.

Is it a good Idea ? Probably not .

That will only raise suspicions and will make further problems .

Regarding social networks - No one can even know if you are registered to any specific social network or not . No one will ask you to login to any account from any other computer . These stories simply can not be accurate .

on a side note I will say that Israel is one of the most advanced high tech nation in the world , if not THE most advanced . If they really want , believe me they will have no trouble getting into your phone without asking your permission to do so. They did it to the nuclear facilities in Iran. you really think your phone is more secure ( or more interesting ) than that ? Further more - I bet that half ( if not more ) of the components and software in your phone and computer are directly or indirectly connected or developed in Israel - without you even knowing it. :-) from intel chips to google products.

They only ask these things to see your reaction and attitude. It is called "profiling".

... AND - Israel is not the only country to do that - I was asked to login to my computer in at least 10 different countries - and in one ( China ) I was not even asked to. they just took the computer and did what they wanted themselves .

So, to answer your direct questions :

Can you refuse ? - Yes you can refuse ( also legally refuse ) and ask for a lawyer or a court order . I was body searched in Israel and I was asked to sign a waiver form. You can refuse to sign. Wait for a court order. Lose your flight.

The consequences ? - You will get an honorary place at a not-so-nice list of some sort .

Is it worth it ? I guess not .

Best practice ? If you really are afraid - Ask an Israeli colleague to accompany you. they will ask him some security questions about you - Easiest way to cruise the security there.

Last remark - those occurrences happen on your Departure . Not arrival. By then - your attitude towards Israel ( and their security procedures ) would probably change and you will have absolutely no trouble. If it will not change - So try to fake it to change .

Like others have wrote here - Sometimes it is better to be smart than right .

EDIT / UPDATE :

like I wrote in some of the comments , it is strange that this question is targeted to Israel only . I think that it is a valid question, but maybe it should be addressed to other ( all ?? ) countries as well, for example - the US.

US immigration might soon ask for travelers social media accounts

Official U.S. Federal registry

Although not yet implemented - this demonstrate the currents and winds in the airport security industry , and weather we like it or not - also the direction where it will eventually might end up.

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    "They themselves will not touch your computer. They are not allowed to." "No one will ask you to login to any account from any other computer." It would be great if you could provide sources for these statements (ideally, official ones.) I would note that this contradicts the official statements of the U.S. Department of State in its advice to travelers to Israel. Given the generally positive relationship between Israel and the U.S., it would be strange for them to just make that up. – reirab Jun 20 '16 at 15:01
  • @reirab well - first ,with all due respect ,in your reference it only mentions " requested access .." .This is in no contradiction to what I wrote.they can ask, but not force - and can not do that themselves from any other computer.You can read some more details here and here where you have quotes from the legal case related to the matter . I urge you to search that case for "official" references. – Obmerk Kronen Jun 20 '16 at 16:10
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Any country can demand to search anything they like as a condition of entry. The only exception is that, in general, countries cannot refuse to admit their own citizens (although they can be detained). There are a lot of horror stories about U.S. officials demanding to see the social media profiles of visitors. I've been to Israel several times, and have never had them ask me to log in to any of my devices or supply social media information, but that's just my own experience. If the immigration authorities suspect that a visitor has what they view as bad intent, they will want to do a far more thorough search than is usual. I'd be suspicious of reports of strip searches, however, unless they think someone is smuggling drugs.

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