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«Censored» - country report on censorship
and control of the Internet (Switzerland)

by Christoph Müller, Nick Lüthi, and Felix Rauch


Contribution for the survey «silenced - an international report on censorship and control of the Internet»
edited by Privacy International and The GreenNet Educational Trust, September 2003, (pp.87f.).

The final version is available here, or can be downloaded (PDF, 2 MB).


(additional texts on surveillance and control can be found here).

pre-print version


The information in this report has been compiled by Christoph Müller, Nick Lüthi, and Felix Rauch,
relying on information from the Swiss Internet User Group (SIUG),
from the Archiv Schnüffelstaat Schweiz (ASS),
from the organizing committee of the Swiss Big Brother Awards,
and from the report from "Reporters without frontiers" [in german: Reporter ohne Grenzen, 4].

For a complementary overview of data protection in Switzerland,
see the "Report on Privacy and Human Rights" by EPIC and PI, 2002, pp. 348-354 [5].



Switzerland is a signatory to the Declaration of Human Rights, and articles of its constitution guarantee the right to access information, data protection, and privacy of post and telecommunications, and freedom of speech.
However, freedom of speech is not absolute: the Penal Code prohibits racist speech and calls to violence.

After 9/11, the Swiss government issued an "emergency decree" that has since been extended until the end of 2003 that requires such institutions as hospitals and universities to hand over "suspicious " data to the authorities even in the absence of a formal request. In spring 2003, the government proposed a new law intended to further expand these powers.

Switzerland has a Federal data protection law and a Federal Data Protection Commissioner since 1992, and most Cantons (states) have similar laws.

In December 2002, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice proposed a bill on lotteries and betting that would allow ISPs and their directors to be fined up to SFR 1 million [about 660'000 EURO] or imprisoned for up to a year for providing access to illegal games. This law is opposed by the Swiss Internet User Group (SIUG), as well as by some ISPs, and has not passed yet.

In 2001, the Parliament approved a new law on interception of communications. The law requires ISPs to retain communications data for six months, and to hand these over to monitoring authorities on production of a court order. In the case of mobile phones, such data includes location data, requiring mobile network operators to constantly track phones and store the data they so collect.
The law also requires ISPs to have the capability of interception email in real time. In case of an interception order, the ISP must forward a copy of every email belonging to the targeted individual to a special police service in Berne.
Lobbying organisations like the SIUG, as well as consumer organisations and data protection officers, regularly stress that email and Internet traffic are not anonymous at all except when using encryption programs like PGP. The SIUG and Big Brother Awards Switzerland are organising workshops on "safe surfing ".

Cryptography is not restricted in Switzerland.

In Spring 2003, the Swiss Parliament decided to require compulsory registration for all users of prepaid mobile phone calling cards. It is illegal to monitor Internet traffic in enterprises.

Switzerland signed the Cybercrime Convention in November 2001. A federal coordination unit for cybercrime control (KOBIK), was formed in February 2002 and became operational in April 2003. The agency 's mission is to look for "illegal content " on the Internet and to prepare prosecutions. Individuals may report crimes, including hacking and pornography, to the unit.

Article 322-b of the Criminal Code prohibits the posting of illegal materials such as racist speech and online incitement to violence. The question of ISPs' liability for content hosted on their servers is not clear and there have been no court cases.
However, in several instances the federal police have issued advice to ISPs to delete or block access to specific Web sites. For example, an examining magistrate of the Canton of Vaud asked ISPs to manipulate the DNS to block access to specific Web sites, and there have been cases where a big company tried to block employee access to the site belonging to a union.

The big commercial ISPs especially have tended to honour requests to block or delete sites, and they have added paragraphs to their Acceptable Use Policies to the effect that they may delete Web sites or accounts without the client 's consent.
Legally, it seems that ISPs can be made liable if they continue to host Web sites with illegal content after being made aware of them. However, ISPs are not required to proactively check the content of the Web sites they host. Some commercial enterprises use filtering software, as well as some governmental agencies and public institutions.

There have been no court cases involving the use of copyright law to limit speech on the Internet. However, in November 2001 Microsoft Switzerland sent a letter to many companies asking them to hand over detailed data on all PCs and software in use. There were protests over this letter, mainly by the Union "Syndikat".

Despite Switzerland's relatively advanced Internet infrastructure, there exists a digital divide.
According to data collected by the Bundesamt für Statistik the typical Swiss Internet user is young, male, relatively well educated, and relatively affluent. The main digital divide is between those who are computer-literate and those who are not, a gap that correlates strongly with the level of formal education and therefore also with socio-economic status.
In the past few years a public-private partnership has worked to bring computers to public schools, and by spring 2003 almost all public schools had Internet access. However, often this is not used because teachers lack training. In the future this problem may accelerate: the more access to Web sites (and other types of Internet communication)is restricted the more access to information will be limited to those with special technical and social skills.

Access to government documents varies by Canton. A federal law on access to public information is planned for sometime in the next few years.



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