Sommaruga would like to amend Switzerland’s Post and Telephone Monitoring Act (VÜPF), according to the Thursday edition of the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper. The act allows authorities to listen in on telephone conversations and e-mail communications when the government feels it is justified.
But if the justice minister has her way, telecoms companies and internet service providers would be able, if asked by the government, to follow all the online activities of a suspected person in real time, meaning they could virtually look over someone’s shoulder as he or she chatted online, performed a Google search or watched a video on YouTube.
In the wake of the killings in Norway, several European governments have expressed the desire to toughen up their own Internet surveillance rules. But in the Swiss case, Sommaruga unveiled her plan in June, weeks before Anders Behring Breivik massacred around 76 mostly young people.
The plans have been met with widespread condemnation and critics say it is unclear under what circumstances the government would be authorized to start closely monitoring a person’s internet use.
“This decree massively expands surveillance capabilities but doesn’t say a word about privacy protection,” Andreas Hugi, spokesman of the ICT Internet and telecoms association, told the Tages-Anzeiger.
Politicians have expressed concerns that Sommaruga wants to amend the law by decree, thereby bypassing parliament and debate.
“Sommaruga’s methods here are extremely questionable from a constitutional perspective,” FDP politician Ruedi Noser said, adding that parliament had recently spoken out against increasing the government’s internet monitoring ability.
In 2009, the Swiss parliament rejected a government drive to toughen up monitoring rules, saying it violated the constitution. Then, in 2010, a new amendment plan put forward by Bern was met with a hailstorm of criticism.