A majority of voters, 64.4%, said no in a referendum to electronic identity (eID) which would be being licensed and controlled by the Swiss government but provided mainly by private companies.

The system, approved by Parliament in 2019, is intended to simplify use of online services by commercial businesses and contact with public institutions via e-government channels. 

The plan involved citizens having a unique electronic identity certificate that would allow access to different services, such as obtaining official documentation, banking services and e-commerce, over the internet. The ID would be issued by private companies but would use data transmitted from the State, with the consent of each person. 

Doubts over the practical use of eID and concerns about potential data abuse have been overwhelming, said Lukas Golder, co-director of the GfS Bern research institute.

“Mistrust in private companies was dominant and helped to tip the vote,” Urs Bieri, a political scientist at the institute, was quoted as saying by the swissinfo.ch news website.

Green Party parliamentarian Sibel Arslan said voters made it clear that they want eID provided only by the government and under democratic control.

Daniel Graf of the referendum committee said voters had not come out against a digital identity scheme but against the proposed solution. 

Justice minister Karin Keller-Sutter acknowledged “a certain unease” among voters. She called on Parliament and critics of the failed plan to cooperate to avoid a standstill.

“We have no choice and must work towards a new solution, even if it takes several attempts. It is key for Switzerland to catch up with other countries when it comes digitalisation,” she said.

PrivSec Global, a live streaming event, takes place on 23-25 March featuring more than 200 speakers and 64 sessions on privacy, data protection and cyber-security.