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Swisscom revises policy to boost privacy of customers

© Keystone / Ennio Leanza

Switzerland’s largest telecommunications operator, Swisscom, is changing its approach to data disclosure in order better protect its customers.

The operator reserves the right, after examination, to “seal” the electronic correspondence (e-mails) of its customers until a court has decided otherwise, the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper reported.

To date, the public prosecutor’s office in Switzerland can access the emails of suspects without the approval of a court. The latest example is the Berset-Lauener affair, which revolves around the suspicion of a breach of official secrecy during the management of the Covid pandemic.

Swisscom had handed over to special investigator Peter Marti the entire private mailbox of Peter Lauener, former head of communications for Federal Councillor Alain Berset. It did so while the investigator was working on the Crypto affair, an espionage case.

Too late

Swisscom has now decided to change its practice. The operator will make use of its right to examine and seal its customers’ accounts on its own, as long as a court has not made a binding disclosure decision, according to the newspaper.  Swisscom responds to less than ten sensitive disclosure requests from the public prosecutor per year.

Currently, suspects who are asked to disclose their correspondence can only request that it be sealed after the fact, once the e-mails are already in the hands of the public prosecutor. The latter often fails to inform the persons concerned of their rights early enough.

Parliament has recognised the problem by tweaking the Code of Criminal Procedure, with the change coming into force in early 2024. According to this reform, investigators will have to actively inform the persons concerned of their right to keep their data “sealed” as soon as they receive confidential documents.

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About Swissinfo
SWI – the international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). Since 1999, has fulfilled the federal government’s mandate to distribute information about Switzerland internationally, supplementing the online offerings of the radio and television stations of the SBC. Today, the international service is directed above all at an international audience interested in Switzerland, as well as at Swiss citizens living abroad.
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