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Swiss move closer to US crime data deal

Lyssandra Sears · 21 Mar 2012, 09:32

Published: 21 Mar 2012 11:23 GMT+01:00
Updated: 21 Mar 2012 09:32 GMT+01:00

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The National Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee has voted by 15 votes to eight to continue negotiating with the United States over the release of Swiss police data requested by the US as aprt of a clampdown on serious crime and terrorism.

The US has threatened to re-introduce visa requirements for Swiss businesspeople and tourists travelling to the US if Switzerland refuses to agree to supply its police data, newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported.

There are fears that any agreement with the US would enable the FBI simply to trawl through Swiss police databases at will. In particular, it is feared that information on what Switzerland considers to be minor offences would be included in the transfer.

Despite what was described as a “sceptical and suspicious” mood at the Foreign Affairs Committee by its Vice-President and Federal Councillor, Simonetta Sommaruga, the vote was nevertheless passed because of three persuasive arguments.

The first was that any agreement negotiated with the US would need to go before Parliament in order to be sanctioned. This gave comfort since it means that any agreement would need significant approval before it could go through.

Second, it was felt that the re-introduction of the visa requirements would deal a major blow to the Swiss economy and therefore negotiations should continue in an effort to avoid this.

Lastly, the Justice Department indicated that the data trasnfer mechanisms were not as draconian as initially feared.

“It’s not that the Americans could freely surf our databases,” Arnold Bolliger of the Federal Police Office told the newspaper.

Any exchange of data would occur in two phases. First, fingerprints and DNA would be sent, but with no corresponding information. Then, where the US found a match, they would need to follow the usual legal procedural route by submitting a formal request for mutual assistance.

One significant problem for Switzerland is the fact that it stores data not only from criminals, but also from innocents. There is a fear that providing both sets of information to the US would remove the ability of innocents to defend themselves against possible misuse of the data by the US.

Another grave concern is the fact that many petty crimes are considered more serious in the US, with the result that a greater number of individuals may find themselves on the US radar than Switzerland would like. Bolliger said however that Switzerland will insist that only information on serious offences will be provided.

Lyssandra Sears (news@thelocal.ch)

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