The right to be offline: Zurich debates new digital rights proposal

The right to be offline: Zurich debates new digital rights proposal

In a statement, the Pirate Party of Switzerland announced that it was submitting a new referendum in Canton Zurich that would give residents the “right to be offline.” Supporters argued that the increasing digitisation of everything, from banking to public transport tickets, is putting children and the elderly at a disadvantage.

Zurich Pirate Party announces Digital Integrity Initiative

In an interview with 20 Minuten, the general secretary of the Zurich Pirate Party, Monica Amgwerd, announced that they were gathering signatures to make the Digital Integrity Initiative into a referendum. She argued that in an increasingly digital age, it was crucial to “balance the advantages and disadvantages of digitalisation with fundamental rights on the internet.”

If approved, the referendum would give all residents of Zurich the “right to digital integrity”. Among other things, this would give residents the right to be forgotten online by setting stricter rules around how long companies store data and what rights firms and officials have to access a person’s public and private online presence.

While it leaves officials to decide how far to extend the rights, Amgwerd argued that people shouldn’t be “held responsible” for things they posted online more than 20 years ago and that companies should not offer or deny jobs to people because of their online activity. Other parts of the plan include the right to information security, the right not to be “judged” or evaluated by artificial intelligence in daily life, and stronger data protection and data consent rules.

Zurich referendum would give a right to be offline

Most importantly, the referendum would grant people the “right to be offline”. Amgwerd argued that in many parts of life, a mobile phone, bank card and internet connection are practically required. She used the example of the recent decision to scrap stamp cards and authenticators for Swiss public transport, arguing it discriminates against people who use cash or are not well versed with technology like children and older people.

Among other things, the referendum would guarantee that bank accounts, patient records, public transport and correspondence with local councils and the government would be freely accessible without an internet connection. She concluded that while everyone should be able to access the internet, resident should also be able to refuse access.

Digital rights proposals in Switzerland

While new for Zurich, the idea of a right to be offline does have precedence in the rest of Switzerland. In June 2023, 94 percent of voters in Geneva approved a “digital integrity initiative” proposed by the local Pirate Party that read along the same lines as the Zurich proposal - the plan was supported by all political parties in the canton. The Pirate Party has also submitted a “right to digital integrity” referendum on the national level, though this is yet to be voted on.

Amgwerd now has six months to collect the 6.000 signatures needed to make her proposal in Zurich into a referendum.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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