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Parliament agrees to computer wiretapping

Campaigner wearing a mask of Justice Minister Sommaruga with a "Trojan horse", a software used by the government


Justice authorities in Switzerland have been given the green light to secretly install computer surveillance programmes to investigate serious crimes.

Following weeks of haggling over details of the new regulations, both chambers of parliament on Wednesday agreed to amend the law on the surveillance of telecommunication.

However, opponents said they would challenge the reform to a nationwide vote. They have 100 days to collect the necessary 50,000 signatures from citizens.

The law allows prosecutors to bug Internet-facilitated telephone communications, including Skype. It will oblige companies such as Facebook or Swisscom, as well as providers of Wi-Fi connections, to cooperate with Swiss authorities.

While data protection and Internet privacy laws are particularly strict in Switzerland, the law requires that the data have to be stored for up to six months at the disposal of criminal investigations.

Parliament eventually agreed to allow the storage of data outside the country, despite initial opposition by a majority in the House of Representatives.

Referendum threat

The Green Party as well as members of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party and the leftwing Social Democrats have threatened to challenge the law to a referendum.

The left is concerned about state surveillance partly because of a major scandal in the late 1980s over the discovery that authorities kept secret files on about 900,000 citizens, including environmental activists, church member and trade unionists.

During the latest parliament debate, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga repeatedly said computer surveillance would not be used preventively, but to combat crimes such as murder, human trafficking, terrorism or pedophile cases.

Last year, parliament also approved a proposal to boost the powers of the country’s intelligence service.

Leftwing parties as well as human rights organisations have challenged the legal amendment to a referendum. The cabinet still has to set a date for the nationwide vote.

Urs Geiser, and agencies

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