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Lucky win for the Swiss biometric passports

20 May, 2009

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Glücklicher Sieg für biometrische Pässe in der Schweiz

A referendum that took place in Switzerland on Sunday, 17 May 2009 was in favour of the biometric passports law by a very narrow margin. Thus the official results show that 50.14% of the voters approved the law, with just 5 504 votes separating the two sides.

With one of the closest results in recent Swiss history, the vote on the law was influenced by the low turnout (38%) and by the number of Swiss citizens who voted from abroad for such a project. 14 cantons (including Bern, Geneva or Basel City) voted against the biometric passports. Howevere, the Swiss living abroad were probably seduced by the rhetoric of the Ministry of Justice Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf who insisted that the biometric passports are necessary so that Switzerland may enjoy the EU visa policy and enter US without a visa.

For example in Geneva, 52.9% people voted against the law, but 55.6% of the Geneva residents that were abroad supported the project.

The biometric passport law was voted in March 2008 by the Swiss Parliament. According to the law, the new passport will be equipped with an electronic chip containing a portrait picture and two fingerprints of the holder. One of the most controversial provision was to store fingerprints in a central database.

Some considered that the main reason behind such a fingerprint register is the access for police investigations, but the justice minister dismissed these allegations.

Widmer-Schlumpf pledged in a press conference to take opponents' concerns seriously: "We will do our best to ensure that personal data in the fingerprint register is secure". She also promised that the ID card would not contain biometric identifiers.

Most of the Swiss newspapers interpreted the final result as a sign of scepticism from the population on the new passports and that the final vote was just lucky.

"It is a slap in the face for the political establishment that includes the government and long-established parliamentarians. They have to thank lady luck that they do not belong to the losers," commented the Aargauer Zeitung

A chance majority (only in French, 18.05.2009)

"Lady luck" helps government win vote (18.05.2009)

Federal voting: the biometric passport accepted by a hairbreadth. Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf relieved (only in French, 17.05.2009)

Passport vote wins majority and puzzles experts (17.05.2009)

Biometric passport scrapes through at ballot box (17.05.2009)



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