The idea of digital IDs in Switzerland has been kicked around since 2002 when the government decided it was a good idea. Since then it has been hotly debated. Following a process of consultation, the government met on 15 November 2017, and announced it’s aiming to have some form of digital or e-ID written into Swiss law between now and the summer of 2018.
The idea is simple. Government-issued physical IDs, such as passports, work well in person, however on the internet, they’re useless. What is needed is a digital ID.
What are the main concerns and what might it mean for the average person?
From the beginning, one concern has been privacy, in particular the risk of the ID connecting separate pools of personal information and third parties gaining access to too much of it. For example, few would want a retailer knowing their salary or tax details. Another concern held by some is the involvement of private, non-governmental companies in the process.
The 35-page consultation document, which includes the views of cantons, political parties and others, offers some clues to what these new digital or e-IDs might look like. There appears to be little common ground on some key issues, so the government has much work to do to turn the project into law.
Everyone consulted agreed the ID should work beyond Switzerland’s borders, in particular in the EU.
There was no clear agreement on whether to involve non-government actors in the process – some were OK involving banks and telecoms, others weren’t.
Everyone agreed a common system was important.
ID number and personal information
There was little agreement here. Some cantons want to use existing social security numbers while others want new numbers. Some political parties want disposable numbers to be created for every transaction.
On what personal information should be used to ID people, there was little consensus. Name, DOB, nationality and place of birth were OK for some, too much for others, and not enough for others. Biometric data were mentioned but there was no agreement on what and how to use it.
Who would get one was not clear. Citizens and those with residence permits? Everyone resident in Switzerland? Tourists? Companies? The Federal Council made it clear it wants to avoid discrimination.
There was consensus on many things but not all. For example, Cantons disagreed on whether e-IDs should be used for asylum processing.
What it will eventually look like is not yet clear but it will most likely involve government-verified ID data being used to transact via third parties such as banks and telecoms providers. Once a person has given permission for the ID to be set up, a party requesting ID, such as a vender or hospital, will ask a bank or telco for verification, the person will be asked to OK this, probably by mobile phone, then a message will be sent from the bank or telco to the vender giving the all clear (or not) and the transaction will be completed.
It could eventually have many uses beyond simple transactions. For example, it could be used for age verification when buying alcohol.
In addition, there will be applications not yet considered. For example, if basic health insurance evolved to offer discounts to non-smokers, health insurance policy data could be added so that cigarettes cannot be sold to those with no-smoking health insurance policies – their ID wouldn’t check out and the retailer would decline the sale.