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Big brother? Wiretapping mainly targets less serious crimes

A person holds a mobile phone

The recent increased powers for tapping communications in Switzerland drew some criticism but was passed without a referendum.


Prosecutors are exercising their wiretapping powers to investigate drugs crimes and robberies far more frequently than terrorist or organized crime offences. This is despite the law being tightened to target more serious offences.

Some 2,844 wiretapping orders were approved last year in relation to drugs offences and 1,353 for theft compared to just 287 cases or organized crime, official statistics show. Even cases of property crime and fraud saw more surveillance than murders and human trafficking, an article in SonntagsZeitung reveals.

The statistics have led some politicians to question whether police need to intercept postal and telecommunications messages as frequently as they do.

+ Read about law changes on wiretapping

In 2016, parliament voted to beef up surveillance laws to cover computer traffic. The law change, which came into effect earlier this year, allows prosecutors to bug internet-facilitated telephone communications, including Skype. It also obliges companies such as Facebook or Swisscom, as well as providers of Wi-Fi connections, to cooperate with Swiss authorities.

During parliamentary debates on the issue, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga repeatedly said computer surveillance would be used to combat crimes such as murder, human trafficking, terrorism or pedophile cases.

But opponents of the new measures feared that they could lead to violations of data privacy and create a big brother state. Critics failed in their attempt to raise a referendum to challenge the law changes.

Last year, the vast majority of communications surveillance was for mobile phone traffic (7,394 cases), followed by interceptions of letters or parcels (361) and tapping landline phones (178).

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