“Federal Council takes the risk of overidentification seriously”

After the Swiss population rejected the Federal Act on Electronic Identification Services in March 2021 with 64% of votes against, the Federal Council has now adopted the dispatch on the new Federal Act on Electronic Identity Proof and Other Electronic Evidence (E ID Act, BGEID) in November 2023. We talk to Michael Schöll, Director of the Federal Office of Justice, about the new proposal and the changes that need to be made

Porträtfoto Michael Schöll

He is the Director of the Federal Office of Justice: Michael Schöll.

Societybyte: What is different now and, at best, more promising than three years ago?

Michael Schöll: The E-ID remains voluntary in the new edition – but almost everything else is different: the E-ID is now to be issued by the federal government and not by private individuals. The architecture is designed in such a way that the privacy of users is protected as much as possible – so no more broad and long data trails. The associated trust infrastructure is not only used for the e-ID, but is also available to authorities and private individuals for issuing other electronic proofs of identity. Last but not least, our way of working is different: we communicate as transparently as possible, offer opportunities for participation and are constantly learning from pilot projects

The Federal Council proposes that the infrastructure required to operate the e-ID can also be used by cantonal and communal authorities as well as private individuals to issue electronic proof of identity. Is the E-ID therefore intended to be a jack-of-all-trades? Isn’t there a risk of putting together a package that is too big and will be shattered at the ballot box – i.e. rejected because of individual aspects?

It’s true that we want to achieve more with the project than “just” issuing the e-ID. As we attach great importance to the protection of privacy, this requires a complex and costly infrastructure. It would be inefficient to use this only for the e-ID, especially as there is also a need for processes without media discontinuity in many other areas of life. Parliament is in the midst of its deliberations – so far, the bill has been very well received

Users of the future state-recognised E-ID should have the greatest possible control over their data (self-sovereign identity). In which area do you see the greatest challenges here?

Exercising self-control also means taking responsibility. The Confederation must succeed in developing a solution that enables users to do this. On the one hand, the e-ID must be as intuitive to use as possible – at the same time, the population must become aware of what really happens to their data. There are also a few technical nuts to crack in the background – as we all know, the devil is in the detail

The federal government must succeed in developing a solution that enables users to do this. On the one hand, the e-ID must be as intuitive to use as possible – at the same time, the population should be made aware of what really happens to their data.

Self-sovereign identity should be ensured through the principle of data minimisation, among other things. At the same time, however, numerous documents such as confirmations of residence, business register extracts, diplomas, tickets and membership cards should also be part of the E-ID. Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

The E-ID should contain more or less the same data as the physical identity card. In contrast to the identity card, however, you can only provide individual details with the E-ID – for example, how old you are – which is data-saving. The other proofs you mentioned are not linked to the E-ID. A user only presents it when there is a need for it. This enables processes without media discontinuity. This not only saves data, but is also sustainable and will lead to new innovations

A widespread fear is that of over-identification – that users will increasingly have to identify themselves with the e-ID in places on the internet where this was not previously necessary. What measures are planned to protect E-ID users from over-identification?

The Federal Council does not want the e-ID to create transparent citizens and takes the risk of over-identification seriously. Sanctions are planned that allow users to be warned of potential “data hoovers”. But you can’t have both: Personal responsibility and protection by the state. In the end, everyone decides who they want to show which data to

A divided society: Does the E-ID promote digital inclusion or does it hinder it, especially with regard to disadvantaged or older population groups?

The E-ID will be measured against the highest standards of accessibility. I am convinced that it will be able to make a contribution to inclusion in this respect. But it is clear that there will always be people who cannot or do not want to use the e-ID. The authorities will continue to be available to them via traditional channels. Overall, however, I am convinced that the E-ID will have an impact that goes beyond its mere application and will become a symbol of Switzerland in the 21st century

About the person

Michael Schöll is a lawyer. He was Head of the Private International Law Division at the Federal Office of Justice from January 2009, Deputy Head of the Private Law Directorate from January 2012 and was appointed Head of the Directorate in May 2015. Michael Schöll has headed the Federal Office of Justice since 1 September 2021. He will give a keynote speech at this year’s TRANSFORM conference

About the TRANSFORM conference

TRANSFORM is an annual conference on the digital transformation of the public sector. With around 200 people from administration, business and research, this year’s conference on 8 May at Bern City Hall will focus on “The digital public service and the role of the state in the digital age”.

Information on the programme and the registration form can be found here.

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AUTHOR: Helen Alt

Helen Alt is a Communications Associate at the Institute for Public Sector Transformation.

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