Efforts to introduce a Swiss Personal Identification Number

An ID number for all Swiss citizens and residents that would remain the same throughout their lives will make it easier to access and exchange information on the persons concerned. Theoretically, this increase in efficiency would be used in a positive way, but it could also be exploited for risky or even improper activities. This is why, like the constitutional expert G. Biaggini, we are calling for a clear definition of the ways in which any personal identification number will be used.

In the 9th Annual Report (Section 10.2), we noted that the introduction of a personal identification number in connection with the harmonisation of registers in accordance with Art. 65 para. 2 of the Federal Constitution was the crucial issue with regard to data protection. Our criticism was not directed at the introduction of a number as such, but at the uncertainty over its intended use and in particular at the fact that a number created in the course of a statistics project should be entered in registers that by definition serve administrative purposes.

Since last year's Annual Report, nothing has been decided at a political level in relation to a personal identification number, according to the authorities responsible.

These however do not seem particularly interested in a political discussion, as in the press communiqué on the consultative process relating to the Federal Act on the Harmonisation of Personal Registers there was no mention of the personal identification number. On the other hand - and this seems rather disturbing to us - in the accompanying letter to interested organisations, the following question appeared: "What form of a personal identification number would you generally prefer: an identification number taken from the residents' records of the federal E-Government project that could be used for both administrative and statistical purposes, or a separate identification number that could be used exclusively for statistical purposes?"

In fact, the position is, however, that in various projects relating to so-called eGovernment, a "working hypothesis" applies, according to which a coordinated federal personal identification number should be introduced in administrative registers. On the basis of this assumption, in various projects in the administrative field (under the heading of eGovernment) a course has been set and an inherent necessity has therefore ultimately been created. What repercussions the infrastructure that has arisen will have for the protection of privacy has never been clarified, nor has a follow-up analysis of the procedure been conducted by the responsible authorities.

The fact that a purely statistical personal identification number has no place whatsoever in administrative registers seems to have been just as conveniently forgotten as the comments of the Federal Office for Statistics itself that the linking of administrative records by means of a PIN "is not in keeping with Switzerland's political culture".

An expert opinion that we commissioned from Giovanni Biaggini (Professor of Constitutional and Administrative Law at the University of Zurich) relating to the constitutional limitations of any personal identification number comes to the conclusion that the reasonableness of the use of such a number can only be assessed on the basis of certain precisely defined objectives. Consequently, a personal identification number may be introduced in certain administrative registers only if this is justified on the basis of specific legal grounds arising from cases of administrative business. Whether gains in efficiency in the administrative sector can outweigh the risks to the protection of personal privacy can only be assessed in relation to specific and precisely defined objectives.

[July 2003]