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CPSR Newsletter Winter 1995


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A Perspective from Switzerland

by Ralf Hauser

CPSR News Volume 13, Number 1: Winter 1995


In Switzerland, two recent developments on the national level might be of interest to CPSR readers:

Since mid 1993 a federal data protection law has been in place. Its goal is to establish the "informational self-determination" (Informationelle Selbstbestimmung) of citizens. Therefore, whoever collects personal data directly from a citizen must inform the person about all uses of the data beyond the obvious purpose for which it has been authorized.

All databases whose data has not been authorized by the concerned citizens as well as data processed without legal obligation must be registered at the federal data protection office (Eidgenoessischer Datenschutzbeauftragter EDSB). In principle, anybody can discover who holds personal data about him or her, and has the right to verify such data.

Furthermore, beginning last summer, the data protection office reports each year on its activities. The report can be obtained at the government printing office EDMZ in Berne for SWF 12. The EDSB has also issued guidelines for the treatment of personal data with respect to:

  • Police matters
  • Asylum and foreign residents
  • Telecommunication (namely X.500 directories)
  • Statistics and census data
  • Social insurance institutions
  • The Swiss Army
  • Apartment rentals (what the landlord is allowed to ask you)
  • Maintainance of the database that enables banks to avoid credit fraud (Zentralstelle fuer Kreditinformationen), and more
Finally, the EDSB has just developed an experimental server, which contains recommendations for how to execute one's rights as granted by the data protection law, guidelines for the owners of collections of personal data, and guidelines for the treatment of personal data in the Swiss Federal Administration.

Documents are in French and German, with Italian soon to be added. Future plans include adding EDSB's yearly reports and the full text of the law.

New copyright legislation went into effect on July 1, 1994. Electronically coded information and software is now explicitly addressed and, except for backups, a fair (or personal) use statute is explicitly not granted. The Congregation of Swiss High Schools and the Swiss University, however, have been successful in negotiating contracts with major software suppliers that treat their institutions with very preferential tariffs.

Another glow of hope in the area of "transparent governance" is that there is a prototype at the office of the federal parliaments (Bundeskanzlei) which gives online access to all parliament decisions and the 4- 6 yearly popular votes of the "direct Swiss democracy".

Ralf Hauser can be reached at


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