National interests guaranteed in telecommunications

Biel-Bienne, 12.12.2001 - A Federal Council report to the security policy commissions of the confederation's councils indicates that the security of information and communications infrastructures in extraordinary situations is substantially guaranteed. Absolute security, however, cannot exist. Nevertheless, there is a certain need for action regarding personnel and organisational matters. The report considers ownership and related aspects as risks which can to a large extent be countered by appropriate measures. At the time of the report, there were a number of parliamentary initiatives in connection with Swisscom's intended disposal of broadcasting installations and the need for a general risk evaluation.

The importance of information and communications infrastructures in crises

Information and communication technologies are the guarantors not only of the economic development of our country but also of the ability of the government and administration to function. They are the quintessential nervous system of our society. This dependence conceals risks and dangers which cannot be underestimated. In extraordinary situations, i.e. during crises, there is generally a greater need for information and communication. For the government and administration, information is not only a basis for decisions to be taken but also a management tool. However, the population also wishes to be informed about events during crises. In crisis situations, it is therefore also important for information and communications infrastructures such as telephone networks or broadcasting installations to be reliable, i.e. actually available. Absolute security, though, is neither technically possible nor economically tolerable. Certain residual risks have to be accepted.

Risks and measures

As the greatest security risks, the report cites dependence on the (mostly foreign) technologies employed, the problems with recruiting qualified personnel and a number of shortcomings in terms of organisation. Decisions on questions such as foreign participation in national operating companies such as Swisscom, however, hardly represent significant dangers which could not be defused by imposing conditions on the operators. Nevertheless, in the course of the internationalisation of markets, it is essential to verify which organisational measures will guarantee that the communications networks which are vital for Switzerland can also be controlled from within the country, independently of the respective owners.

In all, the report finds that the security of the critical infrastructures in extraordinary situations is substantially guaranteed – not least because of the measures which have already been taken. With an eye to current and future developments, however, further measures need to be taken. In general, the responsible persons and decision-makers in government and the administration must be made more aware of security aspects. In this connection, events such as the INFORMO strategic management exercise held this summer by the Federal Chancellery and the commitment of the federal government to the InfoSurance private foundation are also of major importance. They allow an exchange of knowledge and experience between business and administration. In addition, the infrastructure (primarily transmission capacity) which is necessary for communication in extraordinary situations and which must be made available by private operators must be defined as a priority. The legal basis for this already exists in the law on telecommunications currently in force. Nevertheless, as part of the present revision of the federal law on radio and television (RTVG), such an obligation should also be extended to the broadcast radio sector. If this were to be implemented and applied consistently, radio coverage of the population would, for example, be substantially guaranteed in crisis situations. Parliament is provisionally expected to decide on this proposal within the revision of the RTVG.

Interdepartmental working group

The triggers for the investigation were the political discussions in connection with the plans by Swisscom, over recent years, to sell the broadcast radio sector. In this context the question arose as to the extent to which the Confederation, as the main shareholder, would have to retain control of important information and communications infrastructures in order to safeguard the interests of national security. Various parliamentary interventions then also demanded measures to guarantee these security requirements. In its response, the Federal Council announced that the requirements being demanded would be analysed within the framework of an interdepartmental working group and that the Council would look into ways and means of guaranteeing them. A leading role would be played by the Federal Office for Communications (OFCOM). The result of this investigation has now been made available to the security commissions of the confederation's councils in the form of the report entitled "Sicherheitsinteressen der Schweiz an Rundfunk- und Telekommunikations-Infrastrukturen in ausserordentlichen Lagen" [Security interests of Switzerland in terms of radio broadcasting and telecommunications infrastructures in extraordinary situations]. The report is not limited to individual aspects such as the question of conditions of ownership but considers security risks and security requirements in terms of their overall relationship.

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