EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Switzerland’s digital ID vote

The Federal Act on Electronic Identification Services (LSIE) one of the three issues at the ballot box in Switzerland on March 7th.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Switzerland’s digital ID vote
digital identity is a hot topic in Switzerland. Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP

What is the background of this issue?

Anyone who wants to obtain goods or services on the internet usually has to give details of their identity, often involving a user name and password.

But the government says these methods are not regulated by law and there is no guarantee that they are secure and reliable.

Consequently, the Federal Council and parliament have drawn up new legislation on a federally recognised electronic identity, the e-ID.

It would enable anyone in Switzerland to apply for a digital identity card to approved e-ID providers, who would then transmit the requests to federal authorities. Personal data would be transmitted only if individual consent is given.

Supporters leave the possibility for cantons, municipalities and private companies to be e-ID providers, subject to regular checks by Bern.

However, opponents of this measure called for a referendum on the proposed law.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is at stake in Switzerland’s March 7th referendums?

Who is against this law and why?

Opponents argue that private companies, even if approved by federal authorities, shouldn’t provide official identification documents, as there is a risk of misuse of personal data.

However, the Federal Council said that “in the case of the e-ID, the regulations on data protection are even stricter than usual”.

Those who are against the legislation also claim that identity control must remain a responsibility of the state. But as the government is not yet sufficiently at the forefront of digital identity technology, this issue should not be decided on at this time.

Among those who oppose this measure are the Social Democratic Party, the Greens, Green Liberal Party, trade unions, The Swiss Seniors Council, the Swiss Seniors Association, and the Federation of Retired and Self-Help Associations.  

The centrist parties, as well as the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, are in favour of the digital identity law.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland’s ‘anti-burqa’ initiative all about? 

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Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum

Switzerland's decision to purchase US-made fighter jets could be put to a referendum,

Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum
Swiss fighter jets. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Switzerland’s government on Wednesday backed the purchase of 36 F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin to replace its fleet and five Patriot air defence units from fellow US manufacturer Raytheon.

Switzerland’s current air defence equipment will reach the end of its service life in 2030 and has been undergoing a long and hotly-contested search for replacements.

“The Federal Council is confident that these two systems are the most suitable for protecting the Swiss population from air threats in the future,” the government said in a statement.

‘No Trump fighter jets’: Swiss don’t want to buy American planes

The decision will now be put to the Swiss parliament — and also risks being challenged at the ballot box, with left-wingers and an anti-militarist group looking to garner enough signatures to trigger a public vote.

The F-35A was chosen ahead of the Airbus Eurofighter; the F/A-18 Super Hornet by Boeing; and French firm Dassault’s Rafale.

For the ground-based air defence (GBAD) system, Patriot was selected ahead of SAMP/T by France’s Eurosam.

“An evaluation has revealed that these two systems offer the highest overall benefit at the lowest overall cost,” the government statement said. Switzerland is famously neutral. However, its long-standing position is one of armed neutrality and the landlocked European country has mandatory conscription for men.

“A fleet of 36 aircraft would be large enough to cover Switzerland’s airspace protection needs over the longer term in a prolonged situation of heightened tensions,” the government said.

“The air force must be able to ensure that Swiss airspace cannot be used by foreign parties in a military conflict.” 

Long path to decision 

Switzerland began to seek replacements for its ageing fleet of fighter jets more than a decade ago, but the issue has become caught up in a political battle in the wealthy Alpine nation.

The Swiss government has long argued for the need to quickly replace its 30 or so F/A-18 Hornets, which will reach the end of their lifespan in 2030, and the F-5 Tigers, which have been in service for four decades and are not equipped for night flights.

In 2014, the country looked set to purchase 22 Gripen E fighter jets from Swedish group Saab, only to see the public vote against releasing the funds needed to go forward with the multi-billion-dollar deal.

Bern launched a new selection process four years later, and a referendum last year to release six billion Swiss francs ($6.5 billion) for the purchase of the fighters of the government’s choice squeezed through with 50.1 percent of voters in favour.

During the referendum campaign, the government warned that without a swift replacement for its fleet, “Switzerland will no longer be in a position to protect and even less defend its airspace by 2030”.

Currently, the fleet does not have the capacity to support ground troops for reconnaissance missions or to intervene against ground targets.

Meanwhile Switzerland’s current GBAD system is also old and lacks the capacity to meet the widening spectrum of modern threats.

The military currently relies on a range of Rapier and Stinger short-range missiles that have been in service since 1963.