Swiss NGOs come out to oppose extra secret service powers
NGOs, trade unions and political organisations in Switzerland have raised concerns over proposed new powers for the Swiss secret service. The Swiss government argues that the proposed measures are necessary to protect national security, for example through the surveillance of terrorist networks.
New powers for intelligence service includes access to secretive Swiss banks
Some of the new powers proposed for the country’s intelligence services include the ability to pull financial records from Swiss banks - despite the country’s infamous banking confidentiality laws. “In the event of serious threats to Switzerland’s security, the FIS will in future be able to clarify financial flows by requesting information on transactions from financial intermediaries,” a government statement explained in May 2022.
Some of the political actors in support of the proposals include the Swiss People’s Party, who want to take things a step further by obliging doctors and social workers to pass on information if they suspect an individual is planning an act of terrorism. In opposition, a coalition of 15 NGOs, including Public Eye, Amnesty International Switzerland, Democratic Lawyers Switzerland and Operation Libero argue that the proposed powers would come at the expense of people’s human rights.
Swiss Federal Intelligence Service already under scrutiny
Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) has already come under fire earlier this year for keeping files on politicians and political organisations, especially those on the left side of the political spectrum. The Swiss secret service was also embroiled in controversy in the late 1980s when it was discovered that the country’s intelligence community was keeping files on around a million Swiss citizens, causing a major political scandal at the time.
Since then, many rights groups, media actors, activists and political organisations have monitored the powers of the Swiss secret service and have called for reforms. In response, the FIS has made efforts to delete data held on citizens, especially historic data obtained many years ago.
Despite this, in June 2022, an investigation found that the FIS held more than 500 files on members of Switzerland’s Green Party and the non-governmental Public Eye organisation. The FIS said political groups were not the target of its activities and dismissed many of the criticisms made by both organisations, while both the Green Party and Public Eye accused the secret service of breaking Swiss law.
The issue will now be debated in parliament and may be made a national referendum in the coming months.
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