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Big data Privacy seriously at risk, says Swiss data guard

Has kept an eye on privacy since 2001; Hanspeter Thür

( Keystone, Marcel Bieri)

Many people are unaware of how their privacy is compromised online, notes the Swiss data protection watchdog, noting that the amount of internet data doubles every two years. 

Hanspeter Thür, Switzerland’s head of data and information protection, said that new challenges to privacy cropped up daily. In his annual report on Monday, he described big data as a magic wand for global surveillance, and as a new business model in the private sector. 

This makes big data a major threat to people’s privacy, said Thür, who is retiring in November after 14 years on the job. He can cite many cases where he intervened to uphold the individual’s right to privacy. For example, Thür helped prevent PostFinance from turning away e-banking customers who didn’t want to have their payment data analysed. 

Thür says he has done his best to ensure that the Swiss aren’t subjected to the kind of comprehensive monitoring permitted in the United States on account of the “Patriot Act”. 

However, earlier this month, the Swiss parliament approved a new law giving greater powers to official intelligence services. Thür said this could lead to a Swiss version of the “Patriot Act” as it would allow officials to conduct public and private surveillance without the authorisation of a judge. 

Thür said he could live with this “dangerous instrument” if, as predicted, it only affected about ten people per year. His successor has yet to be named. and agencies

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