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Intelligence

Switzerland votes in referendum for increased government surveillance

A clear majority of Swiss voters have agreed to an overhaul of the confederation's spying powers. Opponents have voiced concern that the measures could endanger the country's dearly-held neutrality.

Swiss intelligence services have been granted an array of new powers after voters approved the measure by a margin of 65.5 percent, according to local media. The new law will remove hurdles that prevented Swiss authorities from using some information.

The Federal Intelligence Service will now have the power to tap phones, search e-mails and track internet activity in order to bring down hackers, spies and terrorists. They will also be allowed to use hidden cameras and microphones to monitor suspected criminals, although only after receiving a warrant from a federal tribunal and an oversight committee.

The government in Bern had argued that the security services needed enhanced powers in an increasingly volatile world.  

Opponents to the bill countered that the measures would do little to actually fight terrorism, while threatening the country's cherished neutrality. Green-party lawmaker Lisa Mazzone told broadcaster RTS that proponents of the bill had used "a campaign of fear" to convince voters to side with them.

Supporters of the new law, on the other hand, maintained that it was a necessary step to help Switzerland keep up with other countries.

Schweiz Volksabstimmung Symbolbild (picture-alliance/dpa/J. C. Bott)

Referenda are an important tenet of Swiss democracy.

Bern vows restraint

The new bill will see Switzerland "leaving the basement and coming up to the ground floor by international standards," said Defense Minister Guy Parmelin. At the same time, Parmelin insisted that the Swiss system would still be a far cry from "the United States or other major powers." 

Although the law had already been approved by parliament in 2015, opposition politicians from the Socialist and Green parties managed to obtain the 50,000 signatures needed to bring the matter to a national referendum.

Bern has said that the new powers will only be utilized in the most necessary cases, offering an estimate of about a dozen times a year. The subject is a very sensitive one, as many Swiss voters still remember a 1989 scandal in which it was revealed that the intelligence services had been keeping tabs on 900,000 citizens.

es/jm (AFP, AP)

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