Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 16:10 GMT

Internet Under Surveillance 2004 - Switzerland

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, Internet Under Surveillance 2004 - Switzerland, 2004, available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
  • Population: 7,171,000
  • Internet users: 2,556,000
  • Average charge for 20 hours of connection: 18 euros
  • DAI*: 0.76
  • Situation**: good

Though Switzerland does not belong to the European Union, it follows the EU rules for regulating Internet access. However, it has opted for measures that, while still questionable, are less of a threat to freedom of expression than those taken by its neighbours, especially France.

The January 2002 federal law on monitoring postal and telecommunications messages requires ISPs to retain for six months the details of their customers and their online activity and to hand them over to monitoring authorities if asked by a court and if possible in real time.

The government set up two groups of experts in 2003, one on cybercrime and the other called Genesis, which recommended in November that year that the government follow the EU e-commerce directive in 2000 where the responsibility of website hosts was concerned.

They said authors and suppliers of content (the webmasters) should be legally and fully responsible for it. The hosts would (as in the EU directive) be held only partly responsible and only called to account if, after being told of illegal content, they failed to block access to the site and inform the police. ISPs would have no legal responsibility at all.

These recommendations, based on the EU directive, can all be criticised (see chapter on European Institutions) because they require those providing technical Internet services to do the job of judges in deciding whether content is legal or not. However the government seems to favour a measured interpretation of the EU directive, unlike France and Italy, by for example refusing to order ISPs to carry out routine surveillance of customers' activity. The official position on blocking access to foreign-based websites is not yet known.

The fight against cybercrime a priority

The justice and police ministry also followed the experts' advice by deciding to take more action against cybercrime, with more investigative powers for the federal government. These measures, still being considered, would not come into effect before 2005.

The Onyx monitoring system

Switzerland launched a system (Onyx) in 2000 to broadly monitor satellite-borne international civil and military communications, including Internet traffic. It is a more limited version of the US Echelon system. Without legal and political safeguards, it threatens the right to message privacy. The office of parliamentary management committees said "experience shows that secret activity, more than all other kinds, is likely to lead to abuses because it is largely beyond normal scrutiny by institutions such as courts and the media." But it said the safeguards seemed adequate in this instance.


* The DAI (Digital Access Index) has been devised by the International Telecommunications Union to measure the access of a country's inhabitants to information and communication technology. It ranges from 0 (none at all) to 1 (complete access).

** Assessment of the situation in each country (good, middling, difficult, serious) is based on murders, imprisonment or harassment of cyber-dissidents or journalists, censorship of news sites, existence of independent news sites, existence of independent ISPs and deliberately high connection charges.

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