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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Comments on “Direct Democracy: Successful Petition Gives Swiss Citizens Chance To Vote Against New Surveillance Law”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

We can vote by Internet

Be prepared for a surprisingly high number of voters who support this surveillance law.

Seriously, it is impossible to make internet voting both secure and anonymous. I mean literally in contradiction to the laws of physics. Even if you are OK with public voting records, it is still entirely feasible to tamper with internet voting – for example submit fake votes from people who didn’t actually vote themselves. Detectable if you can afford to spend a lot of money on detecting the fraud, but practically not so much. Especially in a close vote were it only takes a couple of percentage points to shift the results.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, you are incorrect. It is very simple to understand too – anonymous voting requires that the voter can not verify that his vote was counted as cast because otherwise he can be extorted to voting as directed by a 3rd party. Therefore you must choose – verifiable or anonymous, you can not have both.

Prisoner 201 says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Mathemathically sure. But E-voting is vulnerable to human problems.

E-voting allows a third party to look over your shoulder as you vote on your phone or PC. Say, a family member that demands you vote a certain way, or a person offering money for votes.

No matter how good the math is, if I can pay people and watch as they cast their vote, then vote buying becomes a worthwhile investment.

The physical voting booth is the only viable solution.

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

To be fair, the oligarchy gets it’s start early.

One of my favorite questions for friends is ‘do you know your state representatives?’ invariably I get the answers of their US House reps.

NOBODY knows people at the state level, let alone local levels. These people get to do basically cart blanche as they frequently even run unopposed.

THAT’s where this starts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’ve always been an advocate of direct democracy. Most especially now that we have the technology do it at a nation or even global level.

However, people seem to not understand that Representative Democracy is a misnomer since you’re essentially giving up your right to vote for someone else to make it for you. And how often has our representatives say one thing in their campaigns and then do the exact opposite once they’re elected?

Regardless, every time I bring up the prospect of direct democracy to one of my friends, they almost always complain that in such a scenario, ‘idiots’ will end up voting and winning on something completely idiotic. But if over 90% of the policies passed are in favor of corporate interests while less than 10% are to the benefit of the public. Then I’d gladly take a 50/50 chance which direct democracy since clearly the odds are not working in our favor under this regime.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Regardless, every time I bring up the prospect of direct democracy to one of my friends, they almost always complain that in such a scenario, ‘idiots’ will end up voting and winning on something completely idiotic.

So, no difference then. That’s what we have now.

Maybe if people had the right to actually weigh in on stuff (as Switzerland does), more than just marking a ballot once every four years, they might actually care about issues (instead of their party vs. the other party). Maybe they’d even care enough to educate themselves. Instead, that’s all short-circuited by Red Team vs. Blue Team noisemaking & propaganda.

It’s depressing to watch the movers and shakers, with the help of various middlemen and hangers-on (party insiders, pundits, tamed media) wrapping the electorate around their baby fingers. We shouldn’t have to tolerate this charade.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

If anything for the most part it seems that examples of direct democracy are good. For instance the protests against SOPA were a good thing (though that wasn’t direct democracy it was a democratic effort to subvert an attempt to undemocratically pass a bill). Another example is

I wish we had more direct democracy because what comes out seems much more sensible than what we currently have.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

they might actually care about issues (instead of their party vs. the other party).

Except for a few issues that are taken to the citizens at infrequent intervals, direct democracy will still end up with political parties in charge, they will be telling people how to vote rather than voting for them as in a representative democracy. Most people do not want a day to day involvement in politics, which is why they end up being oppressed by those people prepared to engage in politics, and who pass laws to benefit others who engage in the process by lobbying and funding the politicians.

a swiss says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Well, I am from Switzerland. If you want my opinion, here it is – if not, skip that comment.

Direct democracy has its advantages, most of which are noted in the comments. However, there are still problematic areas:

> Lobbying takes also place for initiatives and referendums of the people – in that getting these signatures is expensive (whole teams are doing advertisements and the footwork for contacting people) and have to be sponsored by either private parties, political parties or lobbies/companies. The contra-side can also spend money for “information” campaigns.

> To be honest, there are masses of idiots. You might want to get checks and balances so that the majority of the people doesn’t work against the constitution – or else, the people could change the government form to dictatorship, try to get laws contrary to human rights and so on (this happens in switzerland also, from time to time, what with the debate about automatic extradiction of criminal non-swiss-citiziens – whereby the automatic part goes against separation of power, according to most experts). Thus, initiatives for new laws need to be checked for constitiution-compatibility

> With time, the right to vote for topics decreases. We have that wonderful system of direct democracy, yet not even 50 % do use that right.

Just some thoughts…

Rekrul says:

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.

This is where Jury Nullification is supposed to come in. If the politicians pass a law that goes against the will of the people, they’re supposed to nullify it by refusing to convict people under it.

Unfortunately juries today aren’t allowed to know this and judges directly LIE to them when they tell the jury that they MUST find according to the law.

Justme says:

Re: Re:

Exactly, a jury was intended to be final word on when and how the laws were enforced, and the system has been undermined thru jury instructions that wrongly lead jurors to believe that their duty is to decide the verdict based solely on the letter of the law!

Which denies us as citizen’s the one opportunity we have to directly have a impact on, when and how our laws are enforced!

David says:

Too optimistic

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.

Which is exactly what happened here. It’s just that there is a separate mechanism for getting the law thrown out again eventually. In the mean time, it remains valid.

In a somewhat similar vein, Germany’s government has passed about a dozen surveillance laws which got appealed to its highest court and eventually got thrown out eventually (a process typically running for 2 years or more), just to get passed in almost identical form again right away with all culprits stating that they are oh so very sure that they addressed all of the Supreme Court’s salient points.

And in the European parliament, not even the representatives get a chance for stopping problems by laws: the laws are written by the European Council run by business interests, and the parliament only gets to vote on them. When they vote “no”, they’ll get almost the same thing next voting session. It will just be handed in at a time where most representatives are on vacation or want to get there as fast as possible.

So basically, the mechanisms intended for ultimately enforcing the interests of people, parliament, and constitution grind slowly, and effectively you can bypass them by just restarting at the same point with a lipstick of different color on the pig. In the mean time, the illegitimate laws are in effect.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Too optimistic

Actually the law was voted between march and september 2015 and would go into effect in january of 2017. The referendum as it is, gathered 50k signatures in time and will be voted on in june 2016. So no, the law wasnt just passed in the shadows and isn’t yet in place while some part of the population makes its opposition known.

About internet voting, we have personnal codes that we get through the mail and that we have to enter depending on what choices we make. Tough to falsify that.
And we have actual transparency, audits and securities in place to make sure that what you are describing here doesnt happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Referendums for major issues should be the status quo in every so called “democratic country”.

For all the other minor issues, they should also give people the ability to vote on them, not as a final decision, but to gauge sentiment. Then the politicians would have more direct feedback of what the people want, even if the lobbyists outspend the people 10:1 against or for a certain issue.

We’ve tried the “representative democracy” thing for quite a while, and it’s obvious it’s not working very well. People are not content to just vote for a politician or a party every 4 years and then let them to whatever the hell they want.

I’m definitely not arguing for complete direct democracy, as I think that would be bad. No, we should still keep representative democracies, but we direly need an infusion of “direct democracy” into them.

Referendums for major issues, online feedback for minor ones, and allowing citizens to create their own laws if they gather a certain number of signatures for it, laws that could be heard in Parliament/Congress, and then voted upon, would do wonders for our democracies.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:


In the modern world, it ought to be easy to get a direct democracy – certainly for all important decisions – but instead whenever the subject is brought up, all you hear from politicians is how it’s all too hard and too susceptible to fraud (like current elections can’t be rigged!). As usual it’s all about giving up power rather than the interests of citizens of supposedly democratic countries.

I’ve always been somewhat with Winston Churchill who claimed “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”… but looking at the US and UK (and other countries) today, I can’t imagine that the populace could do worse than politicians even if you limited voting to the 2 million lowest IQs in the country!

tqk (profile) says:

In Canada ...

We’re having to plead with the minister in charge of this for a public consultation on the issue, the results of which will have no power to bind them in any way. In another of these things recently, the minister accepted no questions from the floor. It was just PR to be seen to be open and listening to the people, and immediately forgotten.

Most western style democracy is a sham. I’m thankful not to have to suffer the more in your face tyrannies elsewhere still in the world, but it’s pretty insulting to still have to accept this arrogant bondage in this day and age. We’ve made many advances in many ways in the last few centuries, but not very much as far as individual freedom from oligarchies and plutocracies. We’re still being easily bought off by bread and circuses just as it was in Imperial Rome, and still must tolerate and pay for whatever boondoggles and whims with which our puppetmasters choose to concern themselves. I wonder if this can ever change.

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: In Canada ...

When people decide to get more politically engaged and not one moment before. You can’t abdicate responsibility for running the city, the state, and the nation to a corporate-owned politician and expect them to work in your interest; they won’t. You have to keep an eye on your reps and call them to account on a regular basis. Yes, it involves work and taking responsibility but unless you pretty much supervise your reps and get the voters to gang up on them if they misbehave, you’ll see nothing in the way of change.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: What is it about the cold?

And then just… forgotten about?

“Didn’t we send some people up there a few years back? Built ’em a nice building, lots of paper to draw on, couple of bars for ‘business meetings’? Whatever happened to those guys?”

“I think they try to send out offers for ‘contributions’ in exchange for votes every so often, but given the post doesn’t stop there, it doesn’t really do much. Still, they seem happy yelling at each other, and we don’t have to listen to them, I say let it be.”

Anonymous Coward says:

And if anyone wants to deny the influence of money in politics (and I know some of the shills here still do) and they want to claim that politicians substantially vote based on the public interest here is a website I Googled to help argue against that.

One quote

“I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me. And that’s a broken system.” — Donald Trump in 2015.

and to he who thinks that this is fine because the masses also have money and can contribute lets not forget the fact that income and wealth are unequally distributed. Those with money naturally have different interests than those without and their interests shouldn’t be any more represented just because they have more money.

Anonymous Coward says:

none of these laws should be passed anyway. politicians are supposed to be elected to do what those doing the electing want. i know it’s difficult to ignore when bribes, i mean incentives are paid by big business but everything that affects everyone needs to be considered whether good or bad on the majority, not on the ‘area of biggest payout’!

Karel (profile) says:

direct democracy, yes

Red balloons, blue balloons, the Communists also gave their people two to three parties to choose from. Democracy is a hoax, a distraction to make us think we have power. Why wait every four years for some greasy politician who’s going to serve the rich anyway when we should be able to submit our own ideas and vote on them ourselves? Any time, not only every four years. For this reason I made a website where people can submit ideas and vote on them. It can be broken down into regions, so the ideas and voting can concern only a certain neighbourhood, or an entire country, or a region of a certain kind of people that may cross several borders. We should be able to manage our own affairs without dictation from some capital city thousands of miles away. If people engaged in such discussions instead of letting themselves be brainwashed by the television or distracted by sports and the usual bells and whistles of society, they would feel increasingly empowered and we would move towards a system where the politicians would have to adhere to our decisions, or eventually entirely replace this archaic system.

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