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New technologies put personal privacy under threat

Data protection ombudsman, Odilo Guntern, warns Swiss of the dangers Keystone

The federal ombudsman for data protection says a person's right to confidentiality should be made into law.

Issuing his latest report, Odilo Guntern said on Monday that the increasing use of new technologies like the Internet and mobile telephony, together with the decoding of the human genome, made it easier to compile comprehensive profiles of individuals.

Guntern said people should retain the right to withhold their names from telephone book listings, and remain anonymous while making calls from phone boxes or when using mobile phones with pre-paid cards.

The ombudsman said he didn’t agree with a motion passed last month by the Swiss senate which would make it possible to identify all mobile phone users. Guntern said the senate’s attempt to fight criminals who use mobile phones to cover their tracks was like using a cannon to shoot at sparrows.

Increased surveillance in the workplace was also the subject of the ombudsman’s report. There has been a rise in complaints by employees that their actions are being monitored by video cameras and their e-mails screened.

Swiss companies selling their services or products on the Internet also fail to provide adequate data protection to customers, Guntern said. He stressed that firms had to do a better job letting potential customers know how the information they are asked to provide will be used.

He warned, however, that it was up to each individual to protect his or her own data.

The world stands before a “G and I revolution”, Guntern said. He said gene technology and the Internet have put their stamp on the future, and the size and scope of data collection allows “data tracks” to be followed more and more closely.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR