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migration Authorities combed phones of asylum seekers to confirm identities

refugee centre

In Vallorbe, one of the two asylum centres that took part in the pilot project.

(Keystone/ Valentin Flauraud)

A pilot project run by the Swiss Secretariat for Migration (SEM) in 2017-2018 analysed the data found in asylum seekers’ mobile phones and computers to confirm their identity, Swiss media has reported.

According to reports in the Saturday editions of newspapers published by the Tamedia group, the pilot project involved the analysis of data from 565 phones and laptops collected at asylum centres in Chiasso, canton Ticino, and Vallorbe, canton Vaud.

The project aimed to mitigate the fact that many asylum seekers don’t have adequate documents – and in 15% of cases the data gleaned was useful in establishing origin or journey details.

Daniel Bach, a spokesperson for the SEM, confirmed to the Keystone-SDA news agency that the internal report about the project, cited by Tamedia, did exist, but did not elaborate on the details.

However, he did say that the analyses undertaken provided “useful, additional information about the origin and identity of asylum seekers, as well as about their journey”, and clarified that the lack of documentation was down to various reasons: different rules in other countries, loss of passport on route, or confiscation of passport by traffickers.

All of the analyses were done on a voluntary basis, Bach said, there was no infringement of informational or privacy laws.

Dubious

The Swiss Refugee Council, on the other hand, told Keystone that the searches were intrusive and unsafe, and that it was unclear if and whether authorities would use the data for other purposes.

“The project is constitutionally, and from a data protection point of view, extremely dubious. This is a drastic interference into the private sphere of those involved,” SRC spokeswoman Eliane Engeler said.

According to the Tamedia reports, the justice commission of parliament will debate the issue of such data analysis next Thursday. In other European countries, including neighbouring Germany, such procedures are systemat.

Some two-thirds of asylum seekers in Switzerland are unable to prove their identity with an adequate passport, the SEM says.

Keystone-SDA/dos

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