Switzerland will notify citizens when they have been spied on under new surveillance laws

Swiss voters passed the law on Sunday CREDIT: AP
Swiss voters passed the law on Sunday CREDIT: AP

James Titcomb & Agence France-Presse
The Telegraph

Switzerland will have to notify citizens when they have been monitored by the country’s spy agencies under new surveillance laws.

Voters overwhelmingly backed the laws in a referendum on Sunday, with 66 per cent voting in favour. They give police and intelligence agencies the authority to tap phones and monitor emails, in keeping with the powers in other countries.

However, unlike in many regimes, citizens will be told when they have been spied on. Under an “obligation to inform the person surveilled”, the SRC, the Swiss intelligence agency, must contact anyone who has been monitored within a month after surveillance ends, giving them details about how and for how long they were watched.

The SRC must also tell a suspect why they have been monitored, although there are exceptions – if it is against the public interest, if it would affect legal proceedings, or if the information could put people in danger.

Swiss defence minister Guy Parmelin insisted the government was not aiming to set up a vast data-gathering apparatus
Swiss defence minister Guy Parmelin insisted the government was not aiming to set up a vast data-gathering apparatus CREDIT: REUTERS

Lukasz Olejnik, a security and privacy consultant and University College London researcher, said the requirement is “almost unprecedented”.

“In most (if not all) of law-enforcement legislations around the world, such a strong legal obligation is difficult to find,” he said.

The requirement is one of a number of controls that have been introduced alongside the new powers to prevent them being abused. Phone or electronic surveillance of a suspect can only be triggered with approval by a federal court, the defence ministry and the cabinet.

The government has said the measures would be used only a dozen times a year, to monitor the highest-priority suspects, such as those implicated in terrorism-related offences.

However, the new laws have still proved controversial.

Overshadowing the vote was a scandal dating back to 1989 and the dying days of the Cold War, when Swiss citizens learned that the security services had opened files on 900,000 individuals, detailing their political and trade union affiliations.

The revelations sparked outrage in a country where people fiercely guard their privacy, and led to significant curbs on police intelligence measures as well as demands for wider transparency.

The government’s victory will come as a blow to privacy advocates, including rights group Amnesty International, which said it would allow “disproportionate” levels of surveillance.

However, recent terrorist attacks in Europe have led to calls for Swiss authorities to have more surveillance powers.

FAQ | Investigatory Powers Bill

What is Theresa May proposing?

  • Allow ministers to retain the power to sign off warrants for intrusive surveillance
  • Force internet and communications companies to retain customer usage data for up to a year
  • Protect the ability of GCHQ and MI5 to bulk collect communications data and to hack in to a suspect’s electronic devices

Is it controversial?

Potentially. Privacy campaigners see the new requirement for everyone’s internet records to be stored as a major extension of surveillance powers

Why is the government doing this?

The government sees the bill as “maintaining intelligence agencies’ current capabilities”. David Cameron described it as “one of the most important pieces of legislation” in this parliament and said it goes “to the heart of the Government’s duty to keep the British public safe.”

Haven’t we been here before?

Theresa May put forward a similar bill during coalition in 2013 – nicknamed the Snoopers’ Charter. It was blocked by the Liberal Democrats over concerns about how extensive its powers were

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