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‘Looking after citizens’ ID data is a sovereign task’

e-id-referendum.ch

Lawyer and parliamentarian Sibel Arslan explains why she is against the proposed new law on digital identity (eID) and why rejecting it would be an opportunity for digitisation.

The government and parliament have drafted a national law on digital identity to regulate the identification of people on the internet. The vote booklet advises that the law would provide a sound basis for simple, safe and government-approved digital identities.

On March 7, the Swiss people will decide whether or not this law will come into force in a nationwide vote that was initiated by a cross-party committee. Opponents argue that the law leaves it up to private companies to issue eIDs. Sibel ArslanExternal link of the Green Party and BAsta! political group is on the referendum commission that is fighting the eID law. In this interview, she explains that her concerns are a matter of principle, questioning the role of the state and what citizens can expect from it.

swissinfo.ch: Are you are against eID?

Sibel Arslan: I’m not against eID. In the age of digitisation, it would be foolish not to support digital identity. The question is, however, who should issue it? Should it be provided by private companies or the state? Where and how will our data be stored and who will use it? After all, we are talking about highly sensitive data, and the fundamental question is what role the state should play in all this. Looking after citizens’ identification data is a sovereign task.

swissinfo.ch: Opponents of the referendum complain that Switzerland is losing valuable time because we are already lagging behind on eID. Doesn’t this bother you?

S.A.: It’s true that compared to other countries, Switzerland is lagging behind in digitisation – and unfortunately not only when it comes to eID. But if the state is unable to provide the necessary infrastructure, it’s all the more reason to build capacities in this field. How fast things develop should not be an excuse to accept flawed solutions. We’d rather have a good and trustworthy law without loopholes.

swissinfo.ch: Under the new law, Silicon Valley’s dominance would be broken and data would be stored in Switzerland. Is this not what you are looking for?

S.A.: The opposite would be the case. The new law would allow international businesses to issue eIDs which would compromise data protection. Switzerland needs more far-reaching data protection regulations that will be accepted internationally. This would break the dominance of Silicon Valley, not the new law.

swissinfo.ch: Do you believe the state is generally better at handling data protection and security than private companies?

S.A.: It’s mainly about responsibilities, liabilities, obligations and data minimisation. Data that does not exist does not need protection from abuse. And no matter how well protected, problems with data will always arise.

A state that does not manage to issue digital identities is a state which has already abdicated its responsibility. At the end of the day, it’s a question of willpower – after all, it worked with the SwissCovid App. I am not at all against private companies joining the process, but as a politician, lawyer and citizen I would like to at least have the option of a state solution. The Police Association has criticised the lack of a state solution due to liability issues, and the Swiss Patients’ Association is worried about access to electronic patient records. Under the new law, I would have to get my digital identity over the counter at a bank or post office.

swissinfo.ch: But certain concerns have been taken into consideration such as sharing data. Isn‘t that enough?

S.A.: This only proves that the law had flaws from the very beginning. Early on in the political discussions, we proposed a state solution and that eID could, for example, be issued at the local municipality office. However, the law did not reflect this. It was not until the very last draft that the idea of setting up a commission to monitor the whole process came up. Of course, we supported this idea even though it was submitted by the opposition, but otherwise the commission would not have been established.

Through these amendments, we managed to close some loopholes, however, we are still very concerned about security and data sharing. The data will not be decentralised, as in canton Schaffhausen, it will be centralised and stored with private companies. Furthermore, eID will not only be used for online shopping as it is often portrayed; it will be used for concluding contracts, requesting records from the debt collection register, submitting tax returns, etc. It will be the digital equivalent to our identity cards. We don’t think it’s right that handling eID should fall entirely into private hands.

swissinfo.ch: Is eID a digital passport or not?

S.A.: This question highlights the contradiction among some of the supporters of the new law who emphasise that it would not be an official document. Even though eID cannot be used for international travel, it can be used for identification. What else would it be, if not an official document? Efforts are already underway to create digital travel documents that are internationally recognised, and I am sure this will be the future. Biometric data such as face recognition can be used under the new law, and that’s why it is important to do it properly.

swissinfo.ch: Are you confident?

S.A.: With so much money at stake, I assume the referendum campaign will come to a head. It’s important that voters are provided with detailed information and that they have the freedom of choice. The referendum triggered a public debate, which is good as the government simply wanted to give it the green light. However, the “return to sender” stamp gives us citizens the chance to say that we happily accept eID and don’t mind private businesses to join the process. We just want the option of a state solution.

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SWI swissinfo.ch – the international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). Since 1999, swissinfo.ch has fulfilled the federal government’s mandate to distribute information about Switzerland internationally, supplementing the online offerings of the radio and television stations of the SBC. Today, the international service is directed above all at an international audience interested in Switzerland, as well as at Swiss citizens living abroad.
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