Swiss law enforcement authorities investigating criminal offences ordered real-time monitoring of suspects’ telephone conversations and email in 3,233 instances in 2012, compared with 2,699 in 2011, an increase of roughly 20 per cent.
The figure released by the justice ministry on Thursday was the highest since monitoring began in 1998. Ninety-eight per cent of orders in 2012 were placed by the cantons and two per cent by the federal authorities.
Real-time monitoring involves listening to telephone conversations at the time the calls are placed and reading emails at the time they are sent.
Additionally, information can be collected from service providers for the previous six months regarding facts such as “who telephoned with whom and for how long”. Requests for this type of information increased 21 per cent between 2011 and 2012, to 6,960 requests.
Each request for surveillance must be evaluated and approved by the responsible cantonal or federal judge. In 2011, according to the criminal statistics released, there were 692,954 offences and surveillance was ordered a total of 14,968 times, demonstrating that at most 2.2 per cent of offences were associated with monitoring.
More than a third of requests were associated with serious violations of the narcotics act. Another third had to do with crimes against property. The remaining requests were related to serious violent crime, sexual offences, membership in criminal organisations, and human trafficking.
The number of emergency requests for data needed to search for and rescue missing persons declined from 430 in 2011 to 421 in 2012.
Authorities do not need the approval of a judge to request basic information such as finding out which telephone numbers are registered to a particular individual. Requests for basic information increased 15 per cent between 2011 and 2012, to 202,579 requests.