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information requests Facebook reluctant to release data to Swiss authorities

mark zuckerberg

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg at a congressional hearing earlier this week.

(The Associated Press)

Over the past half-decade, Swiss authorities have sent 361 data requests to Facebook, mostly related to the tracking of potential terrorist activities. Only one-third of the requests were granted, mainly due to differences in legal jurisdiction.

According to the SonntagsZeitung newspaper, which wrote on Sunday on the latest Facebook transparency report for Switzerland, 253 of the 361 requests sent by authorities between 2013 and 2017 were refused by the Californian company.

In most cases, the Swiss authorities (mainly the Federal Office of Police, but also individual cantons) requested information such as email or IP addresses to aid investigations into suspected terrorism.

The main reason Facebook denied so many of the data requests, according to Federal Police spokeswoman Lulzana Musliu, was that some acts that are deemed to be offenses in Switzerland are not so in the US, where Facebook is headquartered.

“If, for example, a Swiss Facebook user spreads illegal propaganda through the network, that may be punishable in Switzerland, but not so in the US due to a different legal framework,” she told the SonntagsZeitung.

Nevertheless, she also said that “working with Facebook has certainly got better” in recent years. This is notably the case for “emergency” requests, such as reacting to child kidnappings or suicide prevention.

Tax difficulties

That its legal domicile is in the US but that it acts as a global company has brought problems for Facebook not just in the area of data protection, but also in the area of tax.

On Saturday, however, Swiss Finance Minister Ueli Maurer told public broadcaster SRF that the latest European-led moves to ensure Facebook pays adequate taxes in the countries where it operates – a temporary three percent “sales tax” – should not be considered in Switzerland.

The physical presence (in Zurich) of Internet giants such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft means that they are already adequately taxed here, Maurer said. “We do not want to tax companies twice,” he said.

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