18:18 GMT +319 September 2019
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    An assistant talks to a migrant in a Swiss Federal refugee center, set-up in a tank hall on the army base in Thun, Switzerland March 22, 2016

    Switzerland Mulls Checking Phones and Laptops of Migrants Seeking Asylum

    © REUTERS / Ruben Sprich
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    Debate has been going on for many months about examining newcomers’ smartphones and computers when carrying out background checks and verifying identities. Advocates of the measure insist that it could be a useful tool, as many arrive in Switzerland without any documents, while opponents argue that this is a violation of privacy.

    The State Political Commission of the Swiss National Council has started working on legal changes that would allow the migration authorities to seize information from smartphones and other data storage devices belonging to people seeking asylum in Switzerland. The move was proposed by Swiss lawmaker Gregor Rutz.

    “When an asylum seeker arrives in Switzerland and applies for protection, he must cooperate. This includes informing where he is going, where he has come from and why he is applying for asylum. We have found that 80% of newcomers arrived undocumented. One does not know where many have come from or who they are”, he said, pointing out that many do not want to provide information about this, so the authorities need to have a tool to find this out.

    As was revealed last week, the Swiss migration authorities conducted voluntary check-ups of data storage devices from November 2017 to May 2018. Spokesman for the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) Daniel Bach confirmed the information, first published by the Tamedia outlet, which cited an internal report on the pilot project. The experiment showed that in 15 percent of the 565 recorded cases, officials had managed to retrieve useful information about the migrants’ identity or travel route.

    As the SEM spokesman, cited by Switzerland's news agency SDA, said, the results of the experiment show that the evaluation could "provide important additional information on the origin and identity of the asylum seekers as well as their route". He pointed out that the migrants had voluntarily given their devices for checks and were guaranteed that their data was protected.

    However, the aid group Swiss Refugee Agency (SFH) sharply criticised the project, calling it constitutionally questionable and suggesting that it is unclear whether the authorities might use the data for purposes other than verification.

    The Swiss migration authorities have pointed out that asylum seekers could be interested in providing officials with information that could substantiate their claims. At the same time, Daniel Bach noted that three-quarters of migrants seeking protection in Switzerland cannot prove their identity with documents.


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