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Karin Kayser-Frutschi, zvg.

«We don’t want
American conditions here»

The police need personal data so that they can provide security, argues government councilor Karin Kayser-Frutschi. In the case of prevention, however, there is always a question as to whether the intrusion into privacy is too great. Ultimately, it is up to politicians to decide.

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Anyone who expects the Nidwalden justice and security director to be in a beautiful historic government building in the center of Stans is wrong. Karin Kayser-Frutschi, who has been co-chair of the Cantonal Conference of Justice and Police Directors (KKJPD) since April 2023 together with Neuchâtel Cantonal Councillor Alain Ribaux, actually has her office in a cantonal police base for which the term «unpretentious» is flattering, close to the freeway junction.

Ms. Kayser-Frutschi, how can I find out today what personal data the police and other official agencies have collected about me?

If the proceedings are ongoing, you have the right to inspect the files. Otherwise, you can submit a request for file inspection to the authority. In addition, there are data protection officers in the cantons from whom you can obtain information about your rights and the related processes. In most cantons, data can generally be inspected due to the principle of public access in the administration, as long as this does not violate the personal rights of others. Nidwalden is an exception, with us the principle of public access does not apply, but in practice the difference is small.

The state knows more and more about the citizen. The citizen, on the other hand, knows or is supposed to know less and less about the state. The most recent example is the discussion about the use of body cams and the ban on private filming during police operations…

…this whole discussion was initiated by a single police association. The KKJPD has not officially commented on it, but the tenor is clear: If we have to defend our work by filming what we do, we will have conditions as they stand in America. We don’t want that in Switzerland. A film, whether from a bodycam or from a private source, always shows only a section of reality, without embedding it in the context. Our task as political leaders is to enable our police officers to do their job as well as possible within the framework set by the law. But as to your actual question, distinction between «know» and «supposed to know» is central.

In what way?

Because not only I notice that the knowledge of many citizens about the state – constitutional law, politics, civics – is insufficient, which has to do with education. That is why people understand state processes and procedures and also their connections less and less. If citizens knew what their rights were, many questions about the handling of data would not arise at all.

A solid education and thus also the imparting of knowledge about the functioning of the state is supposed to be the responsibility of the cantons.

I cannot dispute that. In general, we have to re-learn to inform citizens in such a way that they can understand the state’s actions and do not judge them a priori as negative and directed against themselves.

Would you also not dispute that the state is collecting, analyzing and evaluating more and more personal data?

The possibilities of collecting data and evaluating it in such a way that an order can be fulfilled better and more efficiently have increased by leaps and bounds in the last 10 to 20 years. Today, even every private company uses its customer data to optimize its services. Extreme examples here are certainly the large technology companies, which are supplied with a vast amount of data by each of us through our daily use of our cell phones. The authorities, on the other hand, must abide by the law and can only collect data if the legislature, and thus ultimately the citizens, give them this opportunity. However, I often observe ambivalent behavior in this regard. Citizens always want more security, but they are not prepared to provide the information needed for prevention. But when an accident or crime occurs, they don’t understand that nothing more can be done to prevent or solve it. And then things can develop very quickly, as evidenced by the recent revision of the DNA profile law, which expands the possibilities for investigation.

«Citizens always want more security, but they are not prepared to provide the information needed for prevention.»

The best way to prevent this would be the ability to read people’s minds.

Certain patterns can indeed be detected from databases. But the decision as to whether a database is useful for prevention purposes or represents too great an intrusion into privacy must ultimately be made politically.

Apart from the increased need for security, how have citizens› expectations of the authorities changed over time?

The need for information has increased enormously, as has the demand for transparency. We could provide much more information, but the question is whether that would be effective. In addition, it can be observed that citizens are focusing much more on their individual rights and are also demanding them. People are much less willing to accept that certain decisions in favor of the general public are right and just. On the other hand, the entire social and legal system has become massively more complex. This leads to administrative acts that are admittedly sometimes difficult to understand for ordinary citizens. However, there is another point that is important to me.

And what would that be?

In your questions, you assume that the state wants to collect as much data as possible. But the point is that an authority must have the right data for the task at hand. For me, the focus is on the transfer of data between various institutions. If I know that another agency could have the data that might be able to help me, then the exchange of data and information is more purposeful. Blindly collecting data only creates confusion. For police investigations, for example, it is essential that I know what data my own agency has and what data I can request from others.

But is the state also willing and able to protect its citizens› data against external access? The cases of Xplain, where sensitive data ended up on the darknet, and Swisstransplant, where the organ donor register was not secure, cast serious doubt on this.

Such cases should not happen, and no one wanted them to happen because they involve a lot of trouble and reputational damage. We must learn lessons from these instances and do everything we can to prevent them from happening again.

The smartphone is probably the most important personal data storage device for most people today. How far should security agencies have access to it?

The police can only look at a cell phone if they have a court order to do so, but not based on mere suspicion.

In Thurgau, a police law is being discussed that would allow the police to view electronic devices without concrete suspicion of a crime. Would you like that in Nidwalden too?

No, we already obtain data today within the framework of our current law, if this is necessary. But ultimately, this is also a political decision.

The EU chat control law project wants to monitor everyone in the name of the best interests of children. Is this an issue in the KKJPD? What impact would its introduction have on Switzerland?

Switzerland is autonomous in this area and would not have to adopt any EU regulation. At present, it is not possible to foresee how providers of electronic communications in Switzerland and the general population would be affected by these regulatory provisions. The issue must be discussed politically in Switzerland. In the event of legal implementation, a referendum would probably have to be expected.

The cantons already have instruments to put hooligans in their place. Now there are also calls for compulsory seating, and many would like to have total control of all fans in a stadium, including video surveillance. Is that the right approach?

This is very double-edged. A current example: The measure decided by the «Permit Authority Working Group», the closing of certain fan stands, has led to fans now leaving the stadiums for a quarter of an hour after the start of the match out of spite and then going back to their seats. This leads to an immense additional effort for the security forces and reduces the safety for the match visitors. Pressure creates counterpressure, we should not get into an escalation spiral. There is no patent remedy. A mixture of dialog and red lines probably works best.

In the Corona crisis, a data- and technology-based two-tier society between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated was created in Switzerland, on a fragile empirical basis. Do the data and analysis options available today lead policymakers to overestimate their ability to control and what is feasible?

At the time, it was assumed that the relevant data was available, that the best of our knowledge and belief was used and that the reasons for doing something were always explained. In fact, however, not everything turned as expected. It was an exceptional situation, and hindsight is always wiser. However, the episode shows how important it is that the emergency law, with which the extremely great need of the population for security at the time was taken into account, is limited with respect to time. Otherwise, legal certainty erodes.

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