The Swiss government wants to allow tapping of phone lines, surveillance of the internet and bugging of private apartments to prevent terrorist activities or spy attacks against crucial military and civilian infrastructure.
Presenting the cabinet’s proposed legislation on intelligence services, Defence Minister Ueli Maurer stressed on Wednesday that any such intervention would require approval from cabinet members and judges on a case-by-case basis.
He said the procedure would only be implemented in about ten cases a year and checks by parliamentary and administrative bodies would be increased. About 20 new positions would have to be filled if the law is accepted.
Markus Seiler, head of the Federal Intelligence Service, argued the bill could discourage illegal activities of foreign spies using Switzerland as a hub.
The legislation explicitly excludes suspected cases of violent extremists to avoid a repeat of scandal more than 20 years ago, when the authorities collected information about more than 700,000 people considered dangerous because of their political leanings.
Maurer said internal controls within the secret service would also be tightened as a result of a data theft discovered last year.
However, he said the revelations by Edward Snowden about the amount of international data gathering and breaches of privacy laws by secret services did not have a noticeable impact on the drafting of the bill.
“Switzerland is not planning to introduce exhaustive surveillance measures against its citizens,” he assured.
Maurer added that cooperation with foreign secret services continues to be subject to approval by the cabinet based on a confidential list that is updated every year.
Parliament is likely to discuss the draft law this year and heated debates can be expected according to Maurer.
“It is a question about weighing up security concerns and personal freedom,” he said.
Six years ago, a previous bill giving secret services increased powers was thrown out by parliament.