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Citizens of Switzerland vote for broader government surveillance powers

If you are concerned about privacy laws and think government agencies should get warrants before conducting any phone or internet communications surveillance, odds are high you’re not a Swiss citizen. This past weekend an overwhelming majority of Swiss voters voted in favor of a broad expansion in government surveillance, according to Ars Technica.

The new powers are supposed to be used only by the Service de renseignement de la Confédération (SRC), Switzerland’s intelligence agency, and only against terrorism, espionage, the spreading of arms of mass destruction, and attacks on national infrastructure.

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Per the new law, which the government predicted would only need to be used about 10 times a year, the SRC can install malware on computers, secretly monitor phone and internet communications, and install microphones and video cameras in private spaces.

The law requires approval for any covered action by the defense minister, the national cabinet, and the Federal Administrative Court. Approval can be given after the action is taken in urgent cases.

Speaking in favor of the law, Swiss Christian Democratic party vice-president Yannick Buttet said, “This is not generalized surveillance, it’s letting the intelligence services do their job,” the Guardian reported.

Social Democrat leader Jean Christophe Schwaab spoke in opposition, however, saying, “This law seeks to introduce mass observation and preventive surveillance. Both methods are not efficient and go against the basic rights of citizens.”

“First, our defense minister has shown on several occasions that he does not care about privacy at all. Notably, he has accused opponents of the law to be ‘accomplices of terrorism’,” Schwaab continued.

Voting nearly two-to-one in favor of a referendum to expand surveillance, 65.5 percent supported the law and 34.5 percent opposed. As Ars Technica noted, the Swiss citizenry has apparently shifted its opinion of government surveillance from the view that was broadly held in 1989, when outraged citizens took to the streets on the discovery that as many as 900,000 people suspected of “un-Swiss behavior” were in files held by the government’s security services.