Swiss voters back enhanced powers for security agencies

Switzerland's police and intelligence agencies have limited investigative tools compared to those of other developed countries as phone tapping and email surveillance are currently banned, regardless of the circumstances.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Swiss Defence Minister Guy Parmelin (L-R), Interior Minister Alain Berset and Energy Minister Doris Leuthard attend a news conference following the vote results in Bern September 25, 2016.

Voters in Switzerland backed a new surveillance law on Sunday that will provide enhanced powers to the country’s security services.

The final result of a nation-wide referendum was 65.5 percent in favour of the new law, which was advocated by the government.

Switzerland's police and intelligence agencies have limited investigative tools compared to those of other developed countries as phone tapping and email surveillance are currently banned, regardless of the circumstances.

But the new law will change that.

The government insisted it was not aiming to set up a vast data-gathering apparatus.

"This is not generalised surveillance," lawmaker and Christian Democratic Party vice president Yannick Buttet told public broadcaster RTS as the results were coming in. 

"It's letting the intelligence services do their job," he added.  

Swiss Defence Minister Guy Parmelin had said that with the new measures, Switzerland was "leaving the basement and coming up to the ground floor by international standards." 

A popular initiative which also appeared on Sunday's ballot calling for a 10-percent rise in retirement benefits was defeated, with 59.4 percent voting against.

The government was against the measure, citing costs. 

Sixty-four percent of voters also rejected an ambiguous measure calling for unspecified cuts in the use of natural resources such as lumber and water, which the government also opposed.  

How will the new law work?

Telephone or electronic surveillance of a suspect will only be allowed with approval from a federal court, the Swiss Defence Ministry and the cabinet, according to the law. 

Bern has said the measures would be used only a dozen times a year, to monitor only the highest-priority suspects, especially those implicated in terrorism-related cases. 

The law was approved by parliament in 2015, but an alliance of opponents – including from the Socialist and Green parties – got enough signatures to force Sunday's referendum. 

Rights group Amnesty International said it regretted Sunday's result, arguing that the new law will allow "disproportionate" levels of surveillance and that it posed "a threat... to freedom of expression." 

Source: 
TRTWorld and agencies