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Data commissioner vows to defend basic rights

Parliament has confirmed a new data protection and information commissioner, Adrian Lobsiger, amid concerns over his professional background as former senior representative of the Federal Police Office.

He won 139 votes in a secret ballot in a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate on Wednesday. More than 50 parliamentarians came out against his nomination by the government last November.

Addressing the media, Lobsiger said his role was to raise awareness of the risks and opportunities of the use of data.

“I’m looking forward to being the face and the voice for a basic right of citizens of this country and to carry out my task independently and in a transparent manner,” he said.

On the brink of a big rationalisation process in the technology industry, it is crucial to take into account the needs of all citizens and ensure that they have access to public services, Lobsiger added.

Trying to allay fears about his professional past in the administration, he pledged to consider not only the needs of authorities collecting data but also of other players, including parliament and the business community.

He said it was key for Switzerland to have a legal basis which is compatible with European laws without just accepting them blindly.

“Our IT sector must be able to access the European Union market and vice versa,” Lobsiger said.

Opt out choice

Faced with internet giants including Google, Facebook or Microsoft, Lobsiger stressed it was important to set legal standards in Switzerland while keeping the doors open for dialogue with the industry.

He said it is vital to prevent institutions or private companies from collecting and analysing data of many people before handing them on to others.

“Consumers must always have to choice to opt out,” he told journalists.

Lobsiger stressed that the freedom and the rights of citizens take precedence over demands by police or other security authorities.

“There is basic right to individual freedom in a liberal state under the rule of law. However, freedom always comes with a risk.”

His comments come as cabinet is preparing a draft bill later this year to amend legislation on data protection.

In Thür’s footsteps

The 56-year old Lobsiger, a trained lawyer and expert on white-collar crime, succeeds Hanspeter Thür who retired last November, following 14 years in office.

His task is to provide data protection for all citizens and ensure access to official documents.

The post of data protection commissioner was introduced in 1993 and its scope extended ten years ago to include legislation on freedom of information.

The commissioner has a staff of about 30 people and regularly submits reports to the cabinet.

Beside the federal commissioner, Switzerland’s 26 cantons have their data protection specialists.

Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch



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