Swiss cities and national train operator (SBB) are planning a massive extension of public surveillance systems by installing more closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in public areas.

"/> Swiss cities and national train operator (SBB) are planning a massive extension of public surveillance systems by installing more closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in public areas.

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Big brother is watching Switzerland

Swiss cities and national train operator (SBB) are planning a massive extension of public surveillance systems by installing more closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in public areas.

Big brother is watching Switzerland
Jonathan McIntosh

Such cameras are already in place in many schools, trains and sports venues, reported 20 Minuten newspaper, which asked if these miniature spies really increase security in Swiss towns and cities. 

Three years ago, St. Gallen decided to beef up its security by installing 44 surveillance cameras at the AFG-Sportarena, subways and in the town centre. 

“The pictures have led to many relevant leads”, said Hein Indermaur, head of the social and security department in St. Gallen.

St. Gallen is not the only Swiss town that is installing more video surveillance in public areas. Almost every big town in Switzerland, but also smaller communities, are planning to install electronic eyes. 

Zürich transport authorities will mount cameras in all new Cobra trams by the end of 2011. And the city also plans to add a dozen cameras a year to schools, beginning in 2012.

In Bern, CCTV is planned between Wankdorf train station and the city’s main stadium once local authorities sign off.

Basel is planning to install a surveillance system with 72 cameras in its inner city, which authorities say will only be used to monitor large crowds of sports fans and demonstrations. 

SBB is kitting out regional trains and every new international carriage with cameras by 2011.

SBB spokeswoman Lea Meyer told 20 Minuten: “Now that all nine big Railcity train stations are fitted with cameras, other train stations will be analysed and electronically watched if deemed necessary.” 

“The trend towards video surveillance in the public domain has been unbroken in the last 10 years”, said Kosmas Tsiraktsopoulos, from the Swiss national data protection authority (EDÖB).

Authorities want to collect evidence of criminal acts, but especially want to deter crime. However, critics have expressed doubts about the effectiveness of increased surveillance.

“The prevention effect is limited,” said Viktor Györffy, lawyer and president of the Swiss basic rights association (

“Vandals seek out unwatched areas and cover their faces”, he told 20 Minuten, referencing the probes currently taking place after the riots in London, a city with one of the world’s most extensive surveillance networks.

“It happens all too seldom that people ask themselves about the concrete uses of cameras”, said Györffy. “When a politician thinks a situation needs to be handled, then he simply puts up a few cameras.”

Swiss green and left-wing politicians, who often discuss video surveillance laws and the right to privacy at a cantonal and local level, now have the support of the Swiss Pirate Party (Piratenpartei), which was founded in 2009 by about 150 people. As of February 2011, membership had increased to around 1,300 members.

The Winterthur party branch submitted its first people’s initiative to call a referendum a few days ago. After authorities considered increasing video surveillance in the town, the pirates recommended that in future the parliament and not the executive should decide where cameras are placed.

The Swiss Pirate Party website says that the digital revolution has affected all areas of life:

“In spite of much lip service, the individual’s integrity and freedom have been threatened in hitherto unseen ways. Moreover, this threat is increasing at such a rate that both the general public and legislators are being overwhelmed.”

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Swiss back new law to allow phone and email tapping

Swiss voters approved a new surveillance law on Sunday, in a victory for the government which argued the security services needed enhanced powers in an increasingly volatile world.

Swiss back new law to allow phone and email tapping
A security camera keeps watch over proceedings in Davos: Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP
The proposed law won 65.5 percent support across the wealthy alpine nation, final results showed.
Switzerland's police and intelligence agencies have had limited investigative tools compared to other developed countries: phone tapping and email surveillance were previously banned, regardless of the circumstances.
But the new law will change that. 
The government insisted it was not aiming to set up a vast data-gathering apparatus, similar to the one developed by the US National Security Agency that came into the public eye in part through former contractor Edward
Snowden's revelations.
“This is not generalised surveillance,” lawmaker and Christian Democratic Party vice president Yannick Buttet told public broadcaster RTS as results were coming in. “It's letting the intelligence services do their job,” he added.
Swiss defence minister Guy Parmelin had said that with the new measures, Switzerland was “leaving the basement and coming up to the ground floor by international standards.”
Parmelin insisted the Swiss system was not comparable “to the United States or other major powers”, who have struggled to find the right balance between privacy and security.
How it would work
Phone or electronic surveillance of a suspect will only be triggered with approval by a federal court, the defence ministry and the cabinet, according to the law. 
Bern has said these measures would be used only a dozen times a year, to monitor only the highest-priority suspects, especially those implicated in terrorism-related cases.
The law was approved by parliament in 2015, but an alliance of opponents, including from the Socialist and Green parties, got enough signatures to force Sunday's referendum.
The poll was part of Switzerland's direct democracy system, in which votes are held on a wide range of national issues four times a year, and even more frequently at regional and municipal levels.
Just 43 percent of voters took part in Sunday's poll, a slightly lower mark than recent referenda when flashpoint issues like immigration were on the ballot.
Cold War spying
Overshadowing the vote was a scandal dating back to 1989 and the dying days of the Cold War, when Swiss citizens learned that the security services had opened files on 900,000 individuals, detailing their political and trade union affiliations.
The revelations sparked outrage in a country where people fiercely guard their privacy, and led to significant curbs on police intelligence measures.  But the vote highlighted how public attitudes had shifted, with the law's
proponents invoking the string of recent attacks across Europe — including in Brussels, Nice and Paris.
Criticising that tactic, Green party lawmaker Lisa Mazzone told RTS that the law's approval was won through “a campaign about fear of attacks.” 
Rights group Amnesty International said it regretted Sunday's result, arguing that the new law will allow “disproportionate” levels of surveillance and that it posed “a threat… to freedom of expression.”
But lawmaker Buttet argued that Switzerland's handcuffed intelligence agencies had become too reliant on help from other nations because they were deprived of using the full range of modern investigative tools. “We were naive,” he said.
Separately on Sunday's ballot, a popular initiative calling for a 10-percent rise in retirement benefits was defeated, with 59.4 percent voting against. The government was against the measure, citing the cost.  
Sixty-four percent of voters also rejected an ambiguous measure calling for unspecified cuts in the use of natural resources such as lumber and water, which the government also opposed.