Protection of transparency and privacy remains critical – and must be improved
Bern, 30.06.2020 - As the number of requests for access to Federal Administration records continues to increase, the fact that the vast majority of these are approved, contrasts with the Administration’s efforts to water down the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) by introducing exceptions. For almost three years there have been ongoing discussions about modernising the Data Protection Act, while swift changes envisaged by major digital projects pose an increasing challenge to the Confederation’s supervisory authority for data protection matters. The 2019/2020 Annual Report from the Federal Data Protec-tion and Information Commissioner (FDPIC), which is published today, highlights these two areas of tension.
Satisfying the rapidly growing demand for official documents...
The paradigm change towards opening up activities in public administration to public scrutiny, which began in 2006 with the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), is still underway: public demand for information on administrative activities continues to rise, and the federal authorities are increasingly supplying the information requested. These developments are borne out by the latest statistics: in 2019, 916 requests for access were made, a marked increase of 44 per cent, and in the majority of cases (542), full access was granted to the documents requested. The oral mediation procedure offered by the FDPIC has helped to bring rapid access to official documents. In 2019, 61 per cent of cases were settled amicably.
...while exceptions dilute the principle of transparency
Despite this favourable development, the Commissioner expresses concern about the Federal Administration’s efforts to water down the FoIA by introducing specific new provisions in other laws. Neither the Federal Customs Administration nor the Federal Office of Public Health could be dissuaded from having certain aspects of their activities exempted from FoIA oversight, but the Commissioner hopes that Parliament will reject these exceptions at the eleventh hour.
The FDPIC faces a growing challenge from major digital construction projects...
With regard to data protection, the reporting period saw the regulatory supervision of some major digital projects, such as Facebook’s Libra currency system and the online election campaign ahead of the federal general elections in autumn 2019. From spring 2020, the FDPIC has mainly been occupied with the digital applications used to support efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic that the Federal Office of Public Health is operating in collaboration with the ETH and a number of private companies, such as Swisscom, Ubique, Amazon, Google and Apple. The Commissioner was committed to ensuring that Parliament regulated the Swiss Covid App and its voluntary use in a federal act and he is concerned that the Swiss population should not lose any control over their personal data during the pandemic.
Members of the public and parliament trust that the Commissioner and his team will ensure that those involved in these major projects are made to carry out their work legally and in accordance with data protection requirements from the outset. In particular, the use of artificial intelligence to process biometric data, for example to recognise faces or voices, is coming under scrutiny.
...while the protracted debate on an up-to-date Data Protection Act continues
Given these legitimate expectations, it must not be forgotten that the FDPIC must carry out supervisory activities based on a Data Protection Act that will soon be 30 years old, with limited supervisory powers and supported only by a modest number of staff. Besides the time-consuming monitoring of major projects, this situation leaves only limited scope for the day-to-day supervision of the Swiss economy, the Federal Administration and semi-state owned businesses.
It is to be hoped that the parliamentary deliberations on the total revision of the Federal Data Protection Act, which have taken almost three years now, will be successfully concluded in the autumn session of 2020 and that the new act and ordinance can come into force by the start of 2022 at the latest.
Information for journalistsThe Commissioner, Adrian Lobsiger, and his deputy, Marc Buntschu, will be available to journalists for interviews. The current pandemic-related measures mean that interviews in the foyer of the Media Centre are not permitted, so we will make our own arrangements.
Requests for interviews must therefore be sent to the media unit email@example.com before the media conference.
Address for enquiries
Media Office FDPIC, Phone +41 58 464 94 10, firstname.lastname@example.org
Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner
Last modification 20.09.2019