National Councillor Marcel Dobler is very outspoken about the digital future of Switzerland. He has a strong background in the ICT sector, being ex-CEO of the largest Swiss electronics online retailer „digitec AG“, President of ICTswitzerland and member of the board at SwissSign (provider of the aforementioned SwissID). I had the privilege to interview him on his views on the E-ID, blockchain technology and the possibilities it provides for the Swiss citizenry.
This is a follow-up on my article on E-ID: Swiss electronic ID — a New Kid on the Blockchain?
YZ: Dear Mr. National Councillor it is a privilege to interview you, thank you very much for taking the time. You have a very strong ICT background and you are outspoken about the digital future of Switzerland. Can you give us a quick introduction of yourself and how you were introduced to the world of ICT?
Marcel Dobler [translation by editor]: As an adolescent I was a gamer — that is how I got in contact with the ICT world for the first time. Every minute of my leisure time I played with friends and to earn some money I assembled PCs. Later I turned my hobby into a job. Important steps were my apprenticeship with BMS Ascom as an electronics technician and my computer science studies at HSR [ed. note: Hochschule für Technik Rapperswil]. Also, when founding digitec AG, in the beginning it was all about earning some side money during my studies. Only with time it turned into a veritable business. After selling the company I decided upon taking on a political office — which worked out for me straight away, even as a newcomer, and that’s how I’ve been National Councillor since 2015. Meanwhile I represent the sector as president of ICTswitzerland and I am member of the board at SwissSign.
With your background, I guess it is fair to assume that you are aware of the developments within the blockchain ecosystem. What are your experiences in the field of blockchain technology and how have you interacted with it so far?
Experiences with blockchain technology are mainly gathered with cryptocurrencies at the moment. Within the economy it is barely used until now. It still needs to establish itself. I can imagine blockchain being useful, where not very large amounts of data is being used and security is essential — for example for e-voting or E-ID.
You are chair of the board at SwissSign who (to my knowledge) were first movers with providing SwissID. I am under the impression that SwissID never really caught on. What do you think are the reasons for the hesitant adaption in the market?
Please note: We have to distinguish between the predecessor “SuisseID” and the current solution “SwissID”!
The first try “SuisseID” was expensive and cumbersome (required a token) and could not establish itself. That’s why SuisseID only had a distribution of about 30–100K pieces and could not make the shift to digital identity. With digitec we implemented the pilot, although we knew it would not work.
SwissSign, a joint venture by [ed. note: Swiss] Post and SBB [ed. note: Swiss Federal Railways], has re-launched “SwissID” (free for private users) with a consortium consisting of all major players within the banking sector, the parastatal businesses and additional strategic partners. SBB and Post alone cover a market potential of 5 million customer contacts, together with the contacts of the consortium almost the entirety of Switzerland is covered. A maximal distribution of SwissID within the population is assured. The digital identity becomes reality and the implementation is within the foreseeable future.
SwissID is a centralized product. Have you thought about introducing a decentralized/distributed data storage solution for SwissID or a daughter product?
With SwissID the idea was to implement a prompt and good solution. It is possible to wait for countless technological innovations before launching a product and therefore never enter the market. The cut was made at SwissID — that does not mean that for a new version we will refrain from checking the newest technical achievements of blockchain technology and in case they are useful, implement them. Optimization for the reasons of technical developments are considered, that’s self-evident.
Do you think — putting your financial interest in SwissSign aside — a public blockchain solution for an E-ID is feasible and if so, do you have an idea on what platform it could be done?
Until now the state influence on the E-ID law is limited to the legal frame and the monitoring and certification of the issuers. In the case of e-voting the source code is made public. But not open source. The message from the Federal Council follows until summer 2018. The parliament will then debate whether it should be made a topic. One will certainly have to face the discussion on such projects.
What is your general view on the development of blockchain technology and the crypto economy and what role will Switzerland play in it?
It is an exciting time — much is in motion. How technology will develop in the future is not foreseeable. It’s important and good that Switzerland is pushing research and development. It is fantastic that we are innovative and that some Swiss players, even cities, are aspiring after this topic and in the case of Zug [ed. note canton of Switzerland, also known as “Crypto Valley”] even acting as a provider.
More info: https://cryptovalley.swiss/
Within cryptocurrencies and the fintech sector sort of a bubble is building. Many are justified, but which ones will establish themselves within the market? Equally as many will also disappear. It is a very exciting time, especially in regard to how the major banks will develop themselves within this sphere.
What is your impression concerning the knowledge about the technological shift within the Swiss parliament? Is it something that is regularly discussed and what do you think is the general sentiment of your colleagues about it?
Here there are also many developments. While digitalisation and IT was not a topic of discussion within the last legislature plan (2011–2015), they are part of the agenda in the current plan (2015–2019).
A big deficit is that only a handful of parliamentarians are well informed about this digital subject.
The most recent example is the blocking of websites. It is hopeless/futile when only a few IT conscious politicians battle against sports, culture, cantons and casinos.
I dare to say that the sheer endless advantages of digitalisation have not arrived everywhere. There is a lot of educational work to be done.
Mr. National Councillor thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions. I wish you all the best for your future endeavors, private and professional — and much sporting success with your bobsleigh team!
Thank you for reading — if you liked what you read, feel free to share, comment and follow me. Also feel free to suggest any improvements and corrections to the article in the answers below!
For extra “thank yous” here are my donation addresses:
- XEM: NDYKAE-YR3YCV-NOO36B-KSH5OC-N6KFV2-CLABPX-LBS6
- ETH: 0x762bd7dcd23aec62d1a5bd3e3b2b57bb1b64026d
- BTC: 1HbAzWXZk511UbZkbTJQMdBt9pj8995p2