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EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland’s new 'electronic ID' and will you need it?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland’s new 'electronic ID' and will you need it?
The electronic identity will be easy and safe to use, the government said. Photo: Pixabay

This week the Swiss government announced the creation of the electronic identity (e-ID) for all of Switzerland’s residents, as part of the country’s far-reaching "digital transformation".

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The e-ID, to be launched in 2026, “will enable users to identify themselves digitally in a secure, fast and uncomplicated way,” the Federal Council said in a press release.

Simply put, the e-ID is intended to ensure secure access to a wide variety of services — both online and off (read more about this below).

What is the background behind this move?

In March 2021, Swiss voters turned down the government’s plan for electronic identity system.

The reason for the rejection was that the proposed scheme would be provided mainly by private companies — an approach that sparked fears among voters over possible misuse of personal information by these businesses.

Faced with this failure at the polls, the then Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said that authorities "must work towards a new strategy" toward the electronic ID system.

The Federal Council decided that the government, rather than private entities, must provide and oversee the scheme.

The government “is to be responsible for issuing the e-ID and will provide the infrastructure required to operate it,” authorities said.

It will also provide the app to save the e-ID on the smartphone.

What exactly will e-ID allow you to do?

It is intended to simplify your life and make various transactions more convenient — “a digital identity card issued by the state will make our everyday lives much easier, for example, to conveniently complete administrative procedures online,” the government said.

It will also give you access to a wide variety of services.

For instance, you will be able to order documents online — such as confirmation of residence, business register extracts, and others —  which today are usually issued physically or at best as PDF documents via email. With e-ID, however, you will be available digitally on a smartphone.

It can also be used in face-to-face situations, such as in banks to prove identity, or in  shops as proof of age when buying alcohol.

Who will have access to electronic identity?

Anyone who has a Swiss identity card, a Swiss passport, or a foreign national identity card issued in Switzerland will be able to apply for an e-ID.

In other words, if you are a foreign resident with a valid Swiss work permit, you can apply for, and receive, the electronic identity

It will be issued both online and at passport offices.

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How can you apply for the e-ID?

According to the Federal Council's plans, you will have to proceed thus:

  • You will need to install the corresponding app on your smartphone (it is not yet available).
  • An identification document issued by Switzerland must then be scanned using a camera and a selfie must also be uploaded to the federal server.
  • The Federal Office of Police (Fedpol) must then check the authenticity of the information. It is promised that this should not take longer than a few minutes.

How secure, in terms of data protection, is this system? 

"Users of the state-recognised e-ID will have the best possible control over their data," the government said.

In technical terms, “data protection will be guaranteed firstly by the system itself; by minimising the data that must be disclosed; and also by storing the e-ID exclusively on the user's smartphone.”

“We will do everything we can to protect the E-ID,” Justice Minister Elisabeth Baume-Schneider said during a press conference on Thursday. "Citizens will have control over their data."

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Will you be obligated to get the e-ID and must you pay for it?

The answer to both questions is no.

The system will be voluntary, which means that if you don’t want to get the digital identity, you won’t have to.

And it is free of charge.

Will you also be able to use the e-ID abroad?

Probably in EU countries, which have a similar system.  

"The Swiss e-ID system is intended to comply with international standards, which will ensure that the e-ID can also be recognised and used abroad going forward,” the government said.
 
 
 

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