Israeli Army Court Bars IDF From Searching Soldiers’ Phones

Military Police won’t be prevented from conducting urgent searches in soldier’s presence.

Tomer Appelbaum

The Military Police cannot subject a soldier’s cellphone to a laboratory search without a warrant, even with the soldier’s consent, the Military Court of Appeals ruled on Sunday.

The court was ruling on an appeal by a soldier who was convicted of abetting a fellow soldier’s attempt to obtain drugs. The conviction was based on a search of his phone, to which the soldier had consented. But the appeals court ruled the search illegal, and therefore overturned his conviction.

Until now, the Military Police have frequently searched soldiers’ phones without a warrant, as long as the soldier consented. Such searches, which are done in a cellphone laboratory, provide access to a vast amount of data, including data the user has erased. This can include personal correspondence, medical documents and even legal advice that might be covered by attorney-client privilege.

Moreover, in the past, the Military Police often obtained soldiers’ consent to a search by threatening either to confiscate their phones or to indict them, though this practice has since been halted.

Every year, the Military Police conduct more than 2,200 cellphone searches. According to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Maj. (res). Adi Rittigshtain Eisner, the military defense attorney who filed the appeal, about 80 percent of these searches were done without a warrant, based solely on the soldier’s consent.

Rittigshtain Eisner welcomed the appellate court’s decision, saying it “defends the rights of soldiers and suspects.”