Israel denies report about form ostensibly requiring personal data from visitors

Airports authority says document that queries travelers’ movements in Israel is voluntary, only available to guests of certain organizations, aims to ease their departure process

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A passenger has his luggage checked by security personnel at Ben Gurion Airport. (AP/Ariel Schalit, File)
A passenger has his luggage checked by security personnel at Ben Gurion Airport. (AP/Ariel Schalit, File)

Israeli authorities pushed back Wednesday against accusations that it was invading the privacy of visitors by asking them to fill out a form including queries about their free time activities and acquaintances in the country.

A report Wednesday morning in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily had portrayed the questionnaire as part of a widening array of airport security procedures that have come under increased scrutiny in recent months.

According to the newspaper report, there were fears that the form, which is filled out by departing visitors, would be used to build an archive of personal information about tourists and others.

But the Israel Airports Authority insisted the form has been around for 10 years, claimed that it was voluntary, and said it was designed to streamline airport security measures for those who come to Israel as part of a trip hosted by certain organizations.

“We aren’t interested in the size of their shoes and who they have been sleeping with,” IAA spokesman Ofer Lefler told The Times of Israel.

Rather, organizations that have a tenured security officer can submit their visitors’ details to the IAA ahead of their return flight home. The IAA then provides a form which is filled in by the security officer together with the visitor. At the check-in for the flight home, the guest can hand over the form to security personnel and avoid the sometimes irritatingly personal questions the security teams ask.

The purpose is to ease security procedures when the visitors return to their home countries, Lefler said, and noted that using the form is entirely voluntary.

Instead of running through the standard list of questions which cover a passenger’s movements and activities while in the country — which are aimed at discovering any interactions which might willingly or unwillingly create an opening for terror attacks — those who fill in the form ahead of time are queried only about who packed their luggage and if they were given any packages to take on the plane.

Among the questions on the form is a request for “dates/activities/schedule/meetings planned for all your free time, including weekends” which are “not included in the conference.”

The form also asks for details of “one or two family, friends or business/academic/ministerial/embassy connections you may have in Israel” along with their telephone numbers, according to a copy of the document published by Yedioth.

Following the report, Meretz MK Michal Rozin denounced the form as being an invasion of privacy and said that she would demand the IAA abolish use of the procedure.

“It is a new peak of anti-democratic invasiveness,” she said, according to Hadashot TV news. “The new procedure that requires tourists to specify what they will do in Israel during their visit and with whom people will meet is suitable for a trip to North Korea, not Israel.”

Security personnel at Ben-Gurion airport. Illustrative photo (photo credit: Meir Partush/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of security personnel at Ben Gurion Airport. (Meir Partush/Flash90)

While various security services are involved in protecting entry and departure from the country, the Population Immigration and Border Authority handles screening of those who arrive at the airport and the IAA monitors those who are leaving.

Lefler also rejected a claim that the Shin Bet general security service is unaware of the existence of the form.

“It is done with full coordination with the security services,” he said. “But of course, we don’t pass on the information gathered.”

Airport security measures have been called into question in the past, in particular amid claims they are used to intimidate some visitors over their political views.

A number high-profile cases of Jewish and non-Jewish Israel critics and others being detained and interrogated at the airport over their views recently have drawn condemnation, including accusations that Israel is blacklisting liberal US Jews.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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