Swiss voters on Sunday voted to approve a new surveillance law allowing their national intelligence service broad powers to spy on ‘terrorist’ suspects and cyber criminals, as well as the ability to cooperate with foreign intelligence agencies. While Switzerland is a country where the right to privacy is considered very important, the new law will allow security agents to tap phones and computer networks. This marks a drastic change from previous surveillance capabilities, as the intelligence agency relied solely on information from public sources and other authorities. Some left-wing groups have expressed their displeasure saying the new legislation violates citizens’ right to privacy and will undermine Switzerland’s neutrality. Likewise, Amnesty International said the law would lead to “disproportionate” levels of surveillance and was harmful to “freedom of expression.” Despite some opposition, the new surveillance law garnered 65 percent of the vote [Al Jazeera report] on assurances by Yannick Buttet, the Christian Democratic Party vice president, that the law is not intended to function in a manner similar to the US National Security Agency (NSA), which was exposed and criticized for setting up a vast data-gathering apparatus. The Swiss defense minister, Guy Parmelin, said Switzerland is “leaving the basement and coming up to the ground floor by international standards” of surveillance.
Surveillance and data collection have been a worldwide topic of discussion, particularly after Edward Snowden leaked top-secret [JURIST report] NSA documents in 2013. Last month a UN rights groups criticized [JURIST report] the Investigatory Powers Bill, stating it could threaten freedom of expression and association. In December China passed a new anti-terrorism law [JURIST report] that requires technology companies to provide information to the government obtained from their products and make information systems “secure and controllable.” Last October the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied [JURIST report] a motion by the American Civil Liberties Union to halt the bulk collection of phone records by the NSA. The court ruled that Congress intended for the agency to continue its data collection over the transition period, and the new legislation was to take effect November 29. In June of last year the French Parliament adopted [JURIST report] a new surveillance bill that would give French intelligence serves the authority to monitor Internet use metadata. In February 2015 the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled [JURIST report] that the UK’s mass surveillance of citizens’ Internet use violates human rights law. In July 2014 civil liberties groups sued [JURIST report] the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service known as MI6, alleging that the agency accesses data from undersea cables in violation of the rights to private life and freedom of expression.