August 11, 2011
In a reaction to increasing pressures from Governments around the world to extend the scope of online surveillance, the Computer & Communications Industry Association filed a comment on the Draft Revision of the Swiss Telecommunications Surveillance Ordinance (in French).
The proposal, published by Switzerland’s Minister of Justice and Police, Simonetta Sommaruga, would provide law enforcement agencies with unprecedented authority to collect personal information and intercept Internet traffic. By extending the scope of the existing law to include all Internet providers offering a public service “on the basis of IP technology”, including foreign IP addresses, the proposed modifications would create substantial legal uncertainty for Internet intermediaries operating in Switzerland and conflicts of law for those outside.
“The proposal would grant law enforcement agencies with extensive and poorly defined new powers at the expense of the privacy rights of Internet users. This could set a dangerous precedent, especially for countries with less robust constitutional and judicial protections for citizens than Switzerland,” said Matthias Langenegger, Deputy Representative at CCIA’s Geneva office.
The Justice Department also wants to be able to demand both real time and “retrospective” surveillance of data flows. CCIA is concerned by the proposed obligation to record and retain all communications for f twelve months as it is disproportionate and raises serious privacy issues. In addition, it would require Internet intermediaries to deploy considerable resources to acquire and maintain expensive surveillance equipment, which would likely put some smaller intermediaries out of business – and could cause non-domestic service providers with Swiss offices to relocate.
Although the proposed modifications have potentially far-reaching implications for Internet users and intermediaries, the proposals would not allow for scrutiny by legislators and legal experts. In fact, the Federal Telecommunications Act which sets the legal framework for the surveillance ordinance is currently under revision by the Swiss parliament. By moving ahead with the modification of the ordinance before the revision of the act has been completed, the Justice Department undermines the legislative process and raises due process concerns.
CCIA’s criticism was echoed by other major Swiss trade associations representing the ICT sector, including SWICO, ICT Switzerland and Information Security Society Switzerland (ISSS). The issue also received widespread press attention, including from two of the most prominent national newspapers Le Temps (in French) and Neue Zurcher Zeitung (in German).