Digital ID plans divide politicians and civil society 

Two years ago, the CEO of the Swiss Federal Railways signed a joint venture with private companies to set up a a digital identity system. Now parliament has defined the limited role of the state in such schemes. © Keystone/Ennio Leanza

Parliament has approved the creation of a digital ID to certify the identity of users of internet services, but critics are planning to challenge the decision by forcing a nationwide vote. 

This content was published on September 23, 2019 - 17:34

On Monday, the Senate followed the House of Representatives in agreeing on the last details of a new law proposed by the governmentExternal link four years ago. 

The law foresees limiting the role of the state to act as a licensing authority for technical ID systems developed by the private sector. A federal commission is to oversee the procedures and activities of the ID providers. 

The law also defines a staggered system of security levels, but it does not specify whether mobile phones, smart cards, or other solutions will be allowed. 

So far, a consortium of state-owned companies, banks, insurance companies and the telecoms company Swisscom is the only provider of electronic IDs

A first pilot project to set up a user-friendly single point of entry to digital services, SuisseID, was started nine years ago, but it failed to take off and an amended version was relaunched under the name of SwissIDExternal link in 2017.

Experts say Switzerland is lagging behind other European countries when it comes to creating a system for the digital identification of citizens or organisations to give access to online services offered by commercial companies or the state. 

The discussions in parliament also come amid increasing concerns over security risks when using the internet, notably for e-voting.


Several organisations supported by the Green Party have announced they will force a referendum on the new law, which will come about if they collect at least 50,000 signatures by next January. 

They said the legal regulations are not a political compromise, but that parliament caved in to pressure from the business community at the expense of democracy. 

“Instead of taking into account the wishes of the people, the government and parliament refuse to take responsibility for a crucial state task,” the NGO Digital SocietyExternal link said. 

The organisation argues that an opinion poll published last May found Swiss citizens want the state to be the only provider of a digital ID. 

It’s the second time in the current autumn session that opponents of a legal reform have announced plans to challenge a parliamentary decision to a nationwide vote. 

Last week, environmental groups, supported by left-wing parties, said they will collect the necessary signatures to force a public ballot on a reform of the hunting law, which would make it easier to hunt protected species, notably wolves.

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