Despite Order, Military Police Hasn’t Reduced Searching Soldiers’ Cellphones

Almost every Military Police investigation, apart from traffic cases, involves such probes.

A Military Police officer using his cellphone.
David Bachar

Despite a new order issued by the IDF three months ago with the aim of reducing the searches of soldiers’ cellphone content, the number of these searches has not declined, Haaretz has learned.

The Military Police go through the contents of more than 2,200 soldiers’ cellphones every year. In fact, almost every military investigation, apart from traffic cases, involves such probes.

The order was changed following the Chief Military Advocate’s claim that the widespread accessing of cellphones infringes on soldiers’ privacy and discriminates against them in comparison to the more judicious examinations of civilian cellphones.

Many military investigations, including those related to drug abuse, violence and sex, involve unlocking soldiers’ phones in a laboratory and accessing their content. Jurists familiar with Military Police practices say these searches are carried out almost automatically and are not always based on any real suspicion.

Haaretz reported in February that the IDF was planning to change the instructions for accessing cellphones, to ensure that when a soldier refuses to have his phone searched it would not be held against him. However, the Military Police added a demand that the soldier explain his refusal on the form he is required to sign.

Another part of the order lists the regulations for accessing cellphones. For example, the search must be approved by a Military Police officer, generally the investigations base commander. Also, an investigator may search a cellphone’s content thoroughly in a laboratory only if evidence corroborating the suspicions against the owner appeared in a preliminary scan.

These instructions were intended to reduce the number of cellphone searches. But since the new order was issued in March, some 500 examinations have been carried out, the same as before the order was changed.

The IDF said, “In recent months Military Police investigators have learned the new regulations and in the near future the prosecution will increase supervision over their implementation.”