Swiss cabinet to tighten phone security

Swiss President Ueli Maurer says he generally only uses his mobile phone to speak with family members Keystone

In the wake of revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) spied on European politicians through their mobile phones, Swiss President Ueli Maurer has said that new phone security measures will be soon introduced for the cabinet.

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While Maurer did not go into detail about the new measures, telling the Schweiz am Sonntag newspaper that the details would be made public soon, he said certain safeguards had already been in place to make sure Swiss government business stayed private.

Mobile phones, for example, are currently forbidden in all cabinet meetings, and Maurer said he “could not remember a time” when he’d discussed sensitive issues with a fellow cabinet member over a mobile phone. If he needed to make a call to them, he did so over a landline, which “we believe to be more secure”.

The Swiss government has been working on an information security law since 2010, which Maurer said is currently in the consultation phase with various offices. He added that Switzerland was one of the first European countries to take on the data and communication security issue at a legislative level.

Criticism

On Friday, Maurer had strong words for the United States in reaction to the NSA spying revelations, declaring that “it doesn’t work that way.”

“You can’t spy on your friends, otherwise your work together will become damaged,” he told Swiss television. “Big powers don’t have the right to squash smaller ones and listen in on their telephone conversations.”

“At the end of the day, an individual citizen’s freedom is the most important thing, and spying on citizens or listening to politicians’ phone conversations doesn’t work and doesn’t reflect our culture,” he added. “And I think that makes America weaker instead of stronger.”

Maurer’s words came as the French and German governments banded together at the European Union Summit in Brussels to form a Europe-wide initiative that would seek common ground with Washington over the NSA spying issue. The American agency is believed to have listened in on telephone conversations from 35 top European politicians.

No evidence has yet been uncovered of such spying on Swiss politicians, but Maurer said efforts were underway to looking into the situation and determining the extent of Switzerland’s involvement.

The revelations of the NSA’s mobile phone spying activity were made public through documents leaked by the American whistleblower Edward Snowden, who fled US authorities and is now in Russia.

A classified memo released by Snowden showed that the NSA encouraged senior US government officials to share their international contacts so that they could be added to the agency’s surveillance system. One official released several hundred telephone numbers, among them those of numerous European political leaders including Merkel.

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