On 25 September 2016, the Swiss electorate will vote on the Intelligence Service Act.
If successful, the referendum will allow Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) to monitor private communications, such as those by post, internet and telephone. The government says it needs these powers to protect the country from terrorism, cyber attacks and spying. Terrorist and cyber criminals use modern telecommunications, so being able to monitor this information is vital, it says.
Currently Swiss law only allows the government to access public information or that provided by other authorities.
The government, which voted in favour of the initiative, says there are safeguards to prevent abuse. The measures can only be used when there is a significant threat, and must be approved by several people in the government, including members of the Federal Council, or cabinet.
Those against the proposal fear it will be the beginning of a big brother state, where the government has access to everyone’s secrets and can share them with foreign agencies. Many in this camp also think it is impossible to prevent all terrorist activity and it is therefore not worth trading privacy for something unachievable.
Writing for Bilan, Fabrice Delaye, thinks the initiative could end up being an economic own-goal. For several years, Switzerland has pitched itself as a safe haven for the world’s data. He wonders if this will hold true if this initiative is adopted.
Switzerland’s government seems to disagree. The National Council voted 145 in favour, 41 against, with 8 abstentions for the initiative.
On Sunday, the Swiss public will get its say.
The government video below, in French, explains the initiative further: