SVP pushes ahead with plans to analyse asylum seeker phones

SVP pushes ahead with plans to analyse asylum seeker phones
File photo of an Eritrean asylum seeker in the canton of Schwyz. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
A Swiss National Council committee has come out in support of a parliamentary initiative put forward by the country’s right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) that would allow the electronic devices of asylum seekers to be checked for evidence of their identity.

Around 20,000 asylum seekers arrived in Switzerland without passports or other official identity documents in 2016. This makes the task of verifying their identity or country of origin difficult.

The SVP believes accessing the mobile phones, tablets and laptops could aid in this process and it has now won the backing of a lower house parliamentary committee which supported the move with 17 votes in favour and seven against.

“I am relieved. Anyone who is being followed, and is risking life and limb has no legitimate reason not to reveal their identity to the state that is offering them asylum,” said SVP national councillor Gregor Rutz, who initially put forward the proposal.

Explaining how the measure could work, Rutz told Swiss tabloid Blick that anyone who claimed they were Somalian but made a lot of calls to the Ivory Coast was giving probably giving up information about their real origin.

Rutz told Blick that anyone who refused to comply with the measure would be sent home. “With this new possibility we are sending out a clear signal that we don’t accept fake asylum seekers. Then fewer people will come here because Switzerland is less attractive,” said the politician.

But Greens national councillor Sibel Arslan was quick to slam the measure, saying it would be an intrusion into the private life of those concerned. She described it as “legally dubious” and “disproportionate.”

Arslan said it was unclear what would be done with any data obtained and who would have access to this. She also noted there was a danger this was the start of a slippery slope with the practice being used for other purposes.

The national councillor went on to note that people who really wanted to hide their identity could use apps where data was deleted instantly or change their SIM cards over. “The proposal is a fake populist solution,” she said.

The SVP proposal is still some way from seeing final approval. It must now be looked at by an upper house committee before a possible vote in the Swiss parliament at a later stage.