Israeli Lawmakers to Debate Searches of Soldiers' Mobile Phones

The army can't trample soldiers' basic rights, says Knesset Public Petitions Committee head Adi Kol, following Haaretz report.

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The Knesset Public Petitions Committee intends to hold an urgent discussion Wednesday about the military police's search and seizure of soldiers' cell phones without court approval.

The decision to hold the emergency session comes in the wake of a report in Haaretz on Mondayץ

"Searching cell phones without a court-issued warrant is tantamount to trampling the most basic rights – the right to privacy and to a fair trial," said committee chairwoman MK Adi Kol (Yesh Atid).

"Israel Defense Forces soldiers, despite their unique status, are still citizens with rights, just like everyone else," Kol continued. "We cannot accept a situation in which the IDF completely ignores their basic right to privacy and searches for evidence on cell phones without a court order."

Kol is expected to assemble the committee on Wednesday for a special meeting on the matter. The Military Defender’s Office has called such searches illegal, while the Military Prosecution claims they are permissible, as soldiers sign documents indicating they are willing to undergo searches.

The military police did not provide Haaretz with statistics on the scope of the phenomenon, but it is apparently common in suspected drug offenses.

A sample survey done by the Military Defender’s Office found that in 25 out of 30 recent drug cases, a cell phone search was done without any prior judicial oversight. The defender's office said such searches violate the soldiers' privacy and that, in practice, they can't refuse them.

The issue has been debated in a Jaffa Military Court recently, in a case where a soldier in the Home Front Command was suspected of drug offenses. His military defense lawyers said he cooperated fully with the investigation, denied the charges and provided a urine sample that showed no traces of drugs in his body.

However, investigators obtained the soldier’s consent to search his smartphone and found some six-month-old messages indicating he tried to help friends who asked him to get drugs. The old messages served as evidentiary basis to charge him with drug offenses.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office responded to the original report: “As in Israeli society, within the IDF there is some incidence of drug use. The IDF is fighting to stamp this out, with intensive educational activity as well as intelligence and investigative efforts by the military police. Given the nature of the issue, we cannot elaborate on these efforts. The issue of cell phone searches is a complex one, which is currently being considered in court.”

An Israeli soldier with a cell phone.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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