Direct Democracy: Successful Petition Gives Swiss Citizens Chance To Vote Against New Surveillance Law

from the time-to-watch-Switzerland dept

A common lament these days is that people have no real political power. Yes, elections take place, but after that, politicians just seem to do what they want, with little concern for what the public really thinks about the laws that they push through, as many stories here on Techdirt indicate. In particular, there is generally no mechanism to cancel a new law except by waiting for the next elections, and voting for a party that might repeal it. Often that's not an option, which means the public has no way to stop harmful legislation from going into effect.

Most assume that's just the way things are, but the example of Switzerland shows that's not the case. Citizens there have a number of options if they want to influence politicians directly. For example, when new laws are passed, they can collect signatures in support of a formal referendum on the measure:

if 50,000 signatures are collected from Swiss voters or eight cantons [Swiss states] demand a referendum within 100 days, then a popular vote is held.
That's precisely what has been done in reaction to a new surveillance law that was passed last September, as this post from the Swiss email company, ProtonMail, explains:
the Swiss parliament passed a new surveillance law known as the Nachrichtendienstgesetzt (NDG) or la Loi sur le renseignement (Lrens). The law would have severely curtained privacy rights in Switzerland. Due to our use of end-to-end encryption, the ProtonMail secure email service would not be negatively impacted by the new law. However, we strongly believe in protecting privacy rights, so together with other opposition groups, we decided to mount a challenge against the new law. Due to Switzerland's unique system of direct democracy, any law can be challenged by collecting 50,000 signatures within a period of 3 months after the passage of the law.

Today, we are happy to announce that this effort has succeeded and this afternoon at 13:30h, the referendum will be officially presented to the Swiss government in Bern. This means at the next election, the Swiss surveillance law will be put to a public vote by the entire country, and for once, the people and not politicians will decide the future of privacy in Switzerland.
That's a pretty amazing result, not least because signatures had to be physical ones on pieces of paper, which then had to be verified before they could be counted towards the threshold figure of 50,000. In the end, over 70,000 signatures were sent in, 64,500 were processed, and 55,000 were certified. The success of this exercise in direct democracy contrasts painfully with how things are proceeding elsewhere around the world. In too many countries, new surveillance laws are being rushed through with little scrutiny from politicians, and no input from the public.

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Filed Under: democracy, direct democracy, public vote, surveillance, switzerland


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2016 @ 9:14am

    Re: Re:

    The problem is that the corporations have control over every aspect of government. You can get a state to agree with you about excessive copy protection laws, taking pro-consumer stances, but it doesn't matter because they must comply with federal laws. But when it comes to state laws the state is always anti-consumer. Try to get a state to repeal taxi-cab medallion laws that restrict the number of taxi cab drivers and all of a sudden they ignore the issue and pretend it's not even there. and corporations have managed to manipulate local governments into passing anti-consumer cable and broadband laws. Federal politicians and regulators will then grandstand by pretending to disagree with these laws but they will say it's a local issue. As soon as the people try to influence the federal government (the FCC) to do something about it then suddenly the corporations ramp up their lobbying efforts at congress and get them to change their pro-consumer stance into an anti-consumer one and to get the FCC to do nothing.

    The problem is that every branch of government grandstands in favor of pro-consumer laws when it comes to something outside of their jurisdiction/jurisprudence/authority but then passes anti-consumer laws within the scope of their authority. and the people have to scatter around and petition multiple branches of government to try and get them to act in the public interest and even if they manage to get one branch of government to repeal a bad law all of a sudden another branch of government will pass it and force it onto those that got it repealed from the former branch of government that had it. Then you have international agreements and obligations so that the federal government and courts can sit around and claim that they must meet their international obligations, obligations they put in place to begin with, and that it's out of their control. As if they're not the ones to blame for the very existence of these 'obligations' when they put them there.

    The whole thing is just an elaborate scam to pass blame around while grandstanding about things that you have no authority over in order to get votes and public support but then acting anti-consumer over anything that you do have authority over.

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