Swiss move closer to US crime data deal

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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


US reclassifies Switzerland: What does it mean for American travellers?

America’s public health agency eased travel alerts for dozens of countries this week, including Switzerland. But does it mean that people from the United States can now travel here?

US reclassifies Switzerland: What does it mean for American travellers?
Not yet, but hopefully soon. Photo by Jan Rosolino / Unsplash

Switzerland in early June announced vaccinated travellers would be able to come on June 28th. Therefore, this story is now out of date. Please click here for more information. 

Due to massive vaccination efforts around the world, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lowered travel warning levels  for more than 110 countries and destinations, including Switzerland.

From the highest level four previously, which means all travel is discouraged, Switzerland was ‘promoted’ to Level 3, allowing travel for fully vaccinated individuals.

In total, 14 countries, including Switzerland’s neighbours France and Italy, have been reclassified to a lower level.

Does this mean American tourists can now come to Switzerland?

Even though the CDC has cleared travel for vaccinated US residents, it doesn’t mean they are now allowed to enter Switzerland.

For the time being, travel ban is still in place for most third countries, including the United States. The only exceptions are Swiss citizens or permanent residents returning to Switzerland.

READ MORE: When will Americans be allowed to travel to Switzerland again —and vice-versa?

There are some other exemptions as well, including people whose presence in Switzerland is absolutely necessary to maintain the functioning of the healthcare system or public security and order, death of a close family member in Switzerland, and to continue essential medical treatment that began in Switzerland or abroad.

Each of these conditions must be proven with official documentation.

For other ‘special necessity’ rules, see SEM’s page.

Basically, this means that tourists or other random travellers can’t come to Switzerland at the moment.

There are, however, some promising signs that this restriction may be lifted.

Swiss president Guy Parmelin is scheduled to meet with his US counterpart, Joe Biden, on June 15th. Biden will be in Geneva for high-level talks with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. 

It is not known what Switzerland and the United States will discuss at the meeting, beyond matters of importance to both nations, but there is a possibility that the subject of easing travel restrictions on both sides will be raised.

Also, under France’s new traffic light travel system, fully-vaccinated travellers can now enter France from non-EU countries, including the US.

This does not apply to Switzerland yet, but as the two countries share a border and both are part of the Schengen zone, Swiss entry regulations for US tourists might be relaxed in the near future — though not at this time.

Does this mean US residents can ‘slip’ into Switzerland through France?

Borders between the two countries are pretty porous and checks random at best, but if you attempt to get into Switzerland this way, you’d be breaking the law.

The only US citizens who can come into Switzerland legally right now are those residing in the EU/EFTA states, or one of the third nations deemed safe by public health officials:  Australia, New Zealand, Cyprus, Rwanda, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand.

In other words, it’s not the nationality of a traveller that counts but their place of residence.

What about Swiss citizens going on vacation to the United States?

The US still has a ban in place for tourists from the EU, including Switzerland. It also has similar exceptions — that is, US citizens and permanent residents returning from abroad.

The US is forming expert groups to decide when to lift global travel restrictions that have been in place since March 2020.

However, this will probably take time and, despite mounting pressure from the travel industry and airlines, US-bound travel may not be on the horizon for this summer.

READ MORE: How to get Switzerland’s Covid-19 health pass