"The Federal Council has long neglected digitalisation"
National Councillor Judith Bellaiche is part of the core team of the parliamentary group on digital sustainability Parldigi. And in her capacity as Managing Director of Swico, the trade association for the ICT and online sector, she is working actively to shape Switzerland's digital future. In this interview, she talks about what questions and fears people have on the subject.
Ms Bellaiche, you are committed to the sustainable digital management of knowledge. What's the current situation in Switzerland?
The journey towards digital sustainability is a process of awareness-building – where are things going well, and where do we need to take corrective action? This is where we currently are. Our primary objective is that digitalisation should take place sustainably, because it needs to be permanent and trustworthy.
To what extent do people trust the digital state?
The only broad-based statement we have regarding what people want comes from the E-ID referendum last summer. There were plans to have electronic IDs that would be operated by the private sector. But the population voted against parliament's proposal. They said pretty clearly that the state should issue them, like conventional IDs and passports. I believe this means that people have a lot of trust in the state.
Is Switzerland progressing fast enough?
For a very long time, the Federal Council neglected and trivialised the subject of digitalisation. But then during the Covid crisis, it realised how difficult it was to be unprepared in an emergency. The pressure on administrators and the authorities increased massively in light of all the glitches that occurred – such as faulty data and insufficient monitoring of vaccinations. But some action is now being taken in the Federal Chancellery and certain administrative authorities, and they now want to get things moving.
So we might see some speedy progress now?
The processes are sluggish and access to digitalisation is variable. Because each department operates independently, like an independent state, cooperation between departments is complicated. But the Federal Chancellery is now moving things forward with an interface project. Ultimately, though, the parliamentary process is also very slow, so we members of parliament also need to take ourselves in hand. But once the political will exists, things usually work out fine.
Where is action needed most?
At the end of 2021, Swico carried out a public opinion poll together with the research institute Sotomo, in which participants were asked to prioritise national issues. This revealed that respondents had a particularly significant need for protection. The question of unauthorised access to their data and the risk of it being manipulated ranked most highly. In second place were concerns regarding digital violence, meaning that people feel more vulnerable online than in the real world. And they are unsure how to protect themselves or how to react if they are attacked. The third key point concerns education. Are our children, young people and society as a whole prepared for the digital transformation and new career paths? This calls for some sort of corrective action and a change of emphasis by the state.
So have we previously been going down a different track?
The whole dialogue about the digital state has always revolved around issues such as e-government, e-voting and e-ID cards. As we can now see, this was a relatively blinkered point of view, and the Swiss people have other priorities.