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Data protection chief warns of customer and criminal surveillance


Switzerland’s head of data and information protection has highlighted the dangers of technology that allows businesses to track customers’ habits, warning such practices may soon come to Switzerland and that data collection and analysis en masse represents a “massive threat to privacy”.

In his yearly report to the government, Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner Hanspeter Thür said people-tracking technology that records and stores consumer habits for business use is not currently in use in Switzerland, but he said certain companies had shown interest in using it.

Thür also sees a danger in so-called “big data”, which involves the systematic analysis of massive amounts of information. He finds it especially problematic that big data only shows the probabilities of patterns and could lead people to derive inadequate evidence or causalities from it.

On Monday, Thür called for a revision of Swiss data protection law that would take into account the use of big data. He has recommended that a group of experts analyse the situation and present solutions.

The data protection commissioner also looked at last year’s revelations of online spying by the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) and supported the fact that they had launched a discussion on the barriers of state surveillance.

However, he criticised a bill currently before Swiss parliament concerning more sophisticated means of monitoring the online activity of possible criminals, stating he found it problematic that intelligence services could manipulate IT systems and networks.


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