Swiss Citizens Vote Against Electronic ID Law, Citing Privacy Concerns - Identity Review | Global Tech Think Tank - Identity Review | Global Tech Think Tank

On March 7, 64.4.% of voters in Switzerland stood against a proposed centralized electronic identity system law, one controlled by the state but provided for by private companies. The decision does not come as a surprise—although approved by parliament in 2019, it reflects a certain unease among Swiss citizens, who advocate that the state should take full responsibility for the program and not merely act as an overseeing body.

The Initial Plan

Prior to this eID’s failure, a previous attempt to set up a public-private solution, called SuisseID, failed more than ten years ago.

Switzerland’s newest failed law was originally praised as a compromise between the government and the private sector, with supporters pointing out that almost no government has the IT capacity to develop an eID with appropriate standards. It was brought down in a referendum led by a cohort of civil society groups, trade unions, and leftist and centrist groups. With the commercial sector involved, they stated, efforts to make digitization more democratic would be undermined.

Digitization, Onwards

Indeed, the concept of an eID is not the problem at stake—in fact, the referendum cohort and government officials alike think Switzerland should instate a digital ID.

“We have no choice and must work towards a new solution, even if it takes several attempts,” Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter told a news conference. “It is key for Switzerland to catch up with other countries when it comes to digitalisation.”

The Vote as an Emblem

The vote reflects larger issues within the notoriously private Alpine country, now set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Political scientists even say that the vote was not merely a vote against a flawed electronic system, but a flawed health system. In November, Foreign Policy reported that Switzerland was one of Europe’s worst hotspots amid an ambivalent government unwilling to impose even a “soft lockdown.”

Since then, however, the country has restricted public gathering sizes. According to pro-eID politicians, impeding face-to-face campaigning has been marked as the chief reason the law was opposed. 


Olivia Baker is a Tech Innovation Fellow at Identity Review from Columbia University, where she writes on tech policy and national digital identity technologies.

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