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Privacy Laws in Switzerland

IVPN customers in Switzerland trust us every day with their increasing demand for privacy and security. Understand why privacy is such an important issue for customers in Switzerland.

Data Retention by ISPs

Switzerland has some of the most draconian data retention laws in all of Europe. In 2015 the two government chambers of Switzerland passed amendments to existing surveillance laws (known as BÜPF and NDG) that granted police vast new snooping powers, which now extend to all forms of communications (inclusive of post, email, phone, text messages and IP addresses) and metadata for a period of 12 months[1]. Previously, Swiss surveillance laws since 2002 had allowed government agencies to do some data retention, in particular allowing for the storing of Swiss people’s emails for six months.

Those opposed to the law even warned that the legislation as written would allow the monitoring of mobile phones and even the installation of trojans on computers, tablets and mobile phones. Opponents of the law further accuse the law of monitoring everyone, monitoring too much private information, using ominous technology to do so and that it violates the basic rights of Swiss citizens, all of which threaten the core values of the country’s democracy[2].

Criticism of the law in Switzerland is that of data retention generally: it doesn’t work. It’s been commented that the Swiss law lacks moderation and has a complete disregard for the proportionality principle. It translates roughly to an unadulterated wish list for law enforcement authorities. Concessions were said to have only been made where provisions were impossible or unenforceable, whilst there was an almost complete lack of critical scrutiny regarding the curtailment of civil liberties and the like[3]. However, it is perhaps worth noting that Switzerland does not have a constitutional court and, therefore, there is a very strong chance that the country’s controversial data retention laws could be contested in the European Court of Human Rights, itself a court that has already ruled that data retention laws are generally contraventions of human rights[4].

Digital Copyright Laws

Copyright is protected in Switzerland by the Federal Act on Copyright and Related Rights (CopA) of 1992. Interestingly, Switzerland has often been criticised for its ‘leniency’ regarding certain intellectual property rights. This has extended from what is argued to be its stance on the unauthorized downloading of multimedia content and the provision of that content to family members or friends for personal use (which is not prohibited under Swiss law, as per Article 19 of the Act), that the parallel trade in IP goods is often allowed, that Switzerland has liberal copyright exceptions, and that the country has even seriously considered broad mandatory licensing provisions with regard to patented research tools[5]. Not really what one would expect of the Swiss!

However, Swiss copyright law does explicitly recognize computer software as ‘literary works’ and the country has established a remuneration scheme for the private copying of audio and video works, which then distributes proceeds accordingly. But the quirks continue – for example, public libraries and broadcast libraries are also allowed to sell the works they possess, which may contain multimedia content, to their patrons. These libraries are exempt from paying a copyright fee to the industry, which has been heavily criticised by the United States and other countries. Furthermore, a Swiss user can knowingly purchase or download pirated audiovisual work from a foreign website and still not be prosecuted by Swiss authorities since Swiss law can only allow for criminal prosecution within the country[6].

Freedom of Speech and Censorship

Switzerland is generally accepted as having a high standard of freedom of speech. However, censorship of the politically correct ilk does play a role in the country as Switzerland’s anti-racism laws make it illegal to deny any genocide. Racist or anti-Semitic language or public discourse is also prohibited[7]. The country’s famous form of ‘direct democracy,’ whereby citizens are expected to vote in referenda on laws and government policies does mean that the Swiss tend to be actively involved in their socio-political issues and, hence, protection of their freedoms.

Future Trends

Switzerland may opt to reject data retention laws in the future, because such is the flexibility of its direct democracy. However, the country seems poised to continue its current trajectory of curtailing online privacy, even if this contradicts the freedoms for which the country so prides itself on.

Our Take

Switzerland veers between deprived online privacy and the ardent protection of its democratic values.. the Swiss need to be more demanding about their right to privacy.

Interested in other countries? See our Comparison of Internet Privacy Laws page.

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