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Swiss voters approve new surveillance law



Voters in Switzerland have supported a new surveillance law which provides the country’s security apparatus with enhanced powers to fight terrorism and cyber crimes.

The final results of the referendum, which was conducted on Sunday, showed that 65.5 percent of the participants voted in favor of the proposed law.

The voter turnout was only 43 percent of the total number of the registered voters.

The new law will allow Swiss police and intelligence agencies to conduct phone tapping and email surveillance that were previously prohibited, regardless of the circumstances.

Switzerland has had limited investigative tools compared to other countries.

The law was passed by the Federal Assembly last year but has not been enacted yet, because political parties in the Central European country collected enough signatures to force a referendum on the measure.

Under the law, intelligence services in Switzerland, if authorized by a federal court, would be allowed to listen to phone conversations, intercept emails, keep tabs on internet activity, and deploy hidden cameras and microphones to monitor suspects who are deemed a clear threat.

Proponents argue that it could help provide further protection against cyber crime and impede terrorism, while opponents maintain that it would damage civil liberties.

“This is not generalized surveillance,” lawmaker and Christian Democratic Party Vice President Yannick Buttet said as results were coming in.

“It’s letting the intelligence services do their job,” he told public broadcaster RTS.

Swiss Defense Minister Guy Parmelin has said that with the new law, Switzerland is “leaving the basement and coming up to the ground floor by international standards,” stressing that the Swiss system was not comparable “to the United States or other major powers.”

Swiss Defense Minister Guy Parmelin attends a news conference in Bern on September 25, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)

Despite the relatively low turnout, the vote shows a change in public attitude as Swiss minds have apparently been affected by the recent terror attacks in Brussels, Nice and Paris.

Green Party lawmaker Lisa Mazzone has attributed the law’s endorsement to “a campaign about fear of attacks”, slamming that tactic.

Amnesty International has also regretted the referendum’s result, saying that the new law will allow “disproportionate” levels of surveillance and that it poses “a threat… to freedom of expression.”

Also on Sunday, 59.4 percent of the voters disapproved an initiative urging a 10-percent increase in retirement benefits that was opposed by the government over being costly.

The majority of the voters also rejected a measure calling for reducing the use of natural resources such as lumber and water.

Sixty-four percent of the voters voted against the proposal which was also opposed by the government.

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