Editorial

Indecent Proposal

Police are asking for the authority to order detainees to strip for a 'visual search' of their naked bodies to prevent the smuggling of objects into lockups, even in the absence of a reasonable suspicion. This bad bill should be struck from the legislative agenda

Deliberation to extend arrest in Jerusalem District Court, illustration
Olivier Fitoussi

The Israel Police are asking that officers be given the authority to order detainees to strip for a “visual search” of their naked bodies to prevent the smuggling of objects into police lockups, even in the absence of a reasonable suspicion of such smuggling and after a clothed search has been carried out.

Forcible stripping is a grave infringement of privacy and dignity, even when it is carried out with great sensitivity. It is only natural for officials who have such authority to become inured, and there is no cause to assume that the effort to maintain the individuals’ privacy and dignity will be continued.

Good cause is needed to justify the violation of a person’s fundamental rights. This is precisely the failing in the bill under discussion, which does not specify a need for reasonable suspicion of the smuggling of contraband.

Reasonable suspicion that an offense has been committed is a necessary condition for an action that violates fundamental rights and a bulwark against the arbitrary violation of human rights. As in many other cases, this bill seeks to cloak itself in supposed limitations. The detainee will be asked to willingly submit to a body search. If the detainee refuses, an officer can authorize the use of reasonable force to strip the detainee, while documenting the incident in writing, and after the detainee states his or her objections.

Under detention, a detainee’s consent is not genuine consent, and even the required authorization by an officer is an empty gesture, the outcome of which is known and the entire purpose of which is pretense. Not only will detainees be shamed and their personal dignity be debased by such a violation; they also face bodily harm if they dare not to consent.

As in any dam that is broken when permission is granted to act arbitrarily toward detainees and unjustifiably violate important rights, the message is conveyed to those holding them in custody that the detainee is not worthy of dignified treatment. When permission is granted to violate one’s rights without cause, the day is not far off when this will be serve as a harmful precedent to justify harm in other contexts.

In addition to human rights groups, the State Prosecutor’s Office opposes the bill. Coalition MKs have also criticized it. MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) said: “What happened, are you jealous of the Israel Prison Service?” And MK Sharren Haskel (Likud) said: “Do you also want to strip-search law-abiding citizens? Demonstrators? Minors? No way will that pass here; it’s absurd.”

The police have more than enough powers. This bad bill should be struck from the legislative agenda.