FECL 10 (November 1992):


In spite of massive protests and parliamentary action the Office of the Federal Prosecutor General (Bundesanwaltschaft), the Federal Military Department (Eidgenössisches Militärdepartement) and the Cantons (constituent states of the swiss Confederation) have maintained their practice of telephone tapping, sometimes in clear breach of law. Moreover there is strong evidence that telephones of MP's and federal officials working in the "Bundeshaus" (House of the Confederation: the building which houses the two-chamber parliament and important government activities) are equally tapped - among others by foreign services.

These are some of the conclusions to be drawn from a still unpublished interim report of a working group of the a parliamentary control committee (Geschäftsprüfungskommission).

The findings of the committee are likely to cause new uproar among a public opinion already scandalized by earlier revelations on the unbridled snooping and spying activities of Swiss authorities (see FECL No.6, p.1).

The parliamentary working group examined about a dozen of records involving telephone tapping. The five MP's were virtually dazzled when they discovered that, among other things, a journalist's phone had been systematically tapped only because the investigators hoped to uncover his informer, whom they suspected to be a federal official. Obviously the parliamentary working group rated this serious encroachment on the privacy of the person concerned as "unreasonable".

The example stands for many similar cases. The problematic question of determinating the requirement of "efficiency" as opposed by the limits set by the principle of "appropriate action" was at the center of the working group's reflexions. In how far is telephone tapping necessary for the success of a particular criminal investigation? Which is the relation between "expenditure and returns". According to the parliamentary working group the officials of the administrations concerned bluntly refused to discuss the matter. "Probably nobody there was ever interested in this issue at all", says a member of the group. Moreover the parliamentary group complained about "active obstruction" by high ranking officials of the office of the federal prosecutor general.

According to the findings of the working group, the Federal Office of Prosecution and the defence department order between 40 and 80 long term telephone tappings per year. The figure is much higher, when tappings ordered by investigative authorities of the Cantons are included. The working group made out the most unbridled tapping practices in the Canton of Geneva, well known for its role as an international diplomatic and business turntable.

The parliamentary group particularly expresses astonishment about the fact that telephone tapping is often ordered in cases involving relatively minor delinquency while major cases of drug related and organized crime do not seem to attract particular interest of criminal investigators.

The MP's further are critical about the fact that the individuals concerned are seldom informed afterwards that their phone has been tapped, although this has been explicitly required by the Swiss Federal Court (Bundesgericht). Moreover, this illegal practice had been sharply denounced in the wake of the "Kopp scandal" by a special parliamentary committee (PUK) in November 1989, obviously without success (see CL No.6, p.1).

The present working group has therefore once again called on the Minister of Justice and Police, Mr. Arnold Koller, to take the necessary remedial measures.

When leading its inquiry the parliamentary working group accidentally stumbled over a particularly sensitive matter. Wherever telephone exchanges are used, i.e. for instance in most private enterprises and at the Parliament building, telephone conversations can be tapped with realatively modest technical means by superiors or other curious persons. "We have established that we are dealing with a legal vacuum", says MP Rolf Engler, a member of the parliamentary committee.

There is strong evidence indicating that telephone tapping is a current practice in the "House of the Confederation". A telecommunications technician declared that he had recently met "mysterious and unsurmountable obstacles" when trying to set up new lines in the building: "We have only one explanation - that another agency must be interconnected in some way."

Members of Parliament have in recent years expressed concern about possible tapping of the phone booths in the parliament's corridors reserved for the MP's. Indeed, some strange technical incidents happened. Several MP's trying to ring various persons or firms were connected to - the American Embassy.

The telecommunication board refused to comment such incidents. With reference to a "directive of the Federal Office of Prosecution" and "certain incidents" the board said it will answer technical questions in writing only.


Paraphrased from SonntagsZeitung (Zurich), 27.9.92, p.3, Telephonüberwachung: Der Wildwuchs wuchert weiter, by Catherine Duttweiler