FECL 35 (June 1995):


The second chamber of the Swiss parliament wants to permit extensive pro-active telephone tapping, as well as bugging and videofilming private rooms. RIPOL, the computerised register of criminal investigation, is being extended, and in a secret report, the Federal Minister of Justice and Police is advocating additional measures for the protection of "internal security". Switzerland, it seems, is desperately trying to give proof of its "Euro-compatibility" in the field of pro-active policing.


The "assault on privacy"

Against the explicit will of an advisory committee and of the Minister of Justice, Arnold Koller, the second chamber of the Federal Parliament (comparable to the US senate) has further sharpened an already far-reaching bill on state security (officially: Draft Federal Law on the protection of internal security). In its former version, the bill already provided for the de facto abolition of the right of data subjects to examine their private data and an obligation for the authorities of the Cantons to communicate information to federal state security.

The last remaining "liberal" cornerstone of the bill - the legal restriction on bugging - has now been removed by the second chamber. Now, the police shall be allowed to tap telephones and spy on private rooms with bugs, directional microphones and video cameras, without a court warrant. Under a new provision, the Director of a future "Federal Office of Internal Security" will be empowered to order the surveillance of mail and telecommunications in individual cases for the purpose of procuring information on organisations and groups", whenever a "serous threat to the internal security of Switzerland requires this".

A minority of the second chamber questioned the justification for unrestricted interception of telecommunications and covert surveillance. A conservative MP emphasised the fundamental difference between the surveillance of the participants at a political meeting or of public buildings and infringements on the privacy of people, as allowed by the new provision.

"This is a major assault on privacy", the lawyer and Social Democrat MP, Paul Rechsteiner warns. He illustrates his claim with an example: "Anyone standing up for Kurdish refugees, or dealing - or merely presumed to be dealing - with members of the PKK [Kurdish Workers Party], must assume that he or she is subjected to electronic surveillance".

The Minister of Justice opposed the introduction of the new provision on tactical grounds. He fears that a law giving further powers to the state security police is likely to be rejected by the people. Indeed, in the whole of the 20th century, not one law on policing has been approved by the people in referendum votes, and the "secret files scandal" of 1988 (see FECL No.6: "THE REORGANISATION OF POLITICAL POLICE - HISTORY OF A SCANDAL"), is not likely to have diminished the traditional distrust of the Swiss people against federal policing.


RIPOL extended

RIPOL, the automated criminal search system, is to be extended by including registers for unsolved crimes and for the search for objects. Moreover, Swiss foreign delegations will have access to RIPOL.

The extension of the system is officially justified by reference to the need for more effective means of combating national and international crime. The access of Swiss embassies and consulates to RIPOL aims to prevent the issuing of entry visa to foreigners banned from entering Switzerland or searched by the police.

The upgrading of RIPOL and its connection to Swiss foreign delegations can be viewed as a further step in Swiss efforts to achieve compatibility with Schengen standards (see FECL No.32: "Implementing and upgrading the SIS").


Secret project on internal security

A secret report ordered by the Minister of Justice and Police, Arnold Koller, recommends the introduction of a "coordinator of internal security" assisted by a "committee of coordination". The coordinator and the committee are to be given far-reaching powers to supervise and coordinate the activities of the various and often competing bodies concerned with internal security and public order. The project seems to be strongly inspired by the "Committee of Coordinators" set up in 1988 by the Council of Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs. After Maastricht, the body was renamed the K4 Committee.

The report has not yet been made available to the parliament and Mr. Koller made no mention of it during the recent debate of the second chamber on the state security law.


Sources: Basler Zeitung, 14.6.95; Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 23.6.95; WochenZeitung, 16.6.95.