Data Privacy in the 21st century: Germany vs Switzerland.

Updated 04 October 2017.

In terms of data security, of the countries in Europe, Germany and Switzerland are the standout choices. Here are the differences between the data security and the related issues in the two countries:

These days, privacy has become a highly debated topic with governments being criticized for invasions of privacy, and individuals as well as organizations stealing sensitive information from businesses all over the world. Businesses and individuals need to make their best efforts to ensure the security of their sensitive information and communications now more than ever. And where your servers and service providers are located play a vital role in the determination of how safe your data is. Because America and China are not ideal choices due to governmental monitoring, Europe is probably the way to go. In terms of data security, you have to turn to the developed world.

1-History, Culture and Mutual Agreements:

Germany:

Pros:

  • Bad history with state surveillance which reigns in the government.
  • History of resistance against governmental oppression.
  • Public stance against supplying information to foreign intelligence.

Cons:

  • Susceptible to laws and pressure from the EU.
  • The German Intelligence Agencies have a reputation of sharing data with other Intelligence agencies.

Switzerland:

Pros:

  • Bad history with state surveillance reigns in the government.
  • Culture of Secrecy that stems from the banking sector.
  • Not directly subject to EU laws.

Cons:

  • Less advanced cyber-security legislation.
  • No specific cyber-security or cyber-crime legislation.
  • History of the government monitoring the private information of businesses and individuals.
  • Switzerland has a mutual legal assistance treaty relationship with the United States. These treaties require foreign governments to hand over to a requesting government any information legally available to their local authorities.

The history of state surveillance in Germany was quite severe which created a wariness of government overreaches amongst generations of the German people. While Switzerland also has a history with state surveillance from the secret files scandal of 1981, the scandal was the discovery of mass surveillance rather than a reality of extended governmental oppression. Hence, the effect of history in terms of surveillance is more significant in Germany than Switzerland.

2-National Laws:

Germany:

Pros:

  • In the EU, data privacy regulations are among the strictest in the world.
  • The German Constitution guarantees citizens’ right to privacy.
  • Metadata can only be stored domestically.
  • Federal Data Protection Act (Bundesdatenschutzgesetz) aimed at ensuring data security.
  • General surveillance is against EU law.

Cons:

  • Laws permit data retention for up to 10 weeks; excluding emails.
  • Certain statutes require the retention of business documents for 6–10 years.

Switzerland:

Pros:

  • Generally stringent privacy laws.
  • Not bound by EU to Pan-European agreements to share data.
  • Swiss Data Protection Act protects access to locally stored data.
  • Parties must be notified and given time to fight if courts grant access to data that is otherwise inaccessible.

Cons:

  • Swiss email providers are required to store user data for a minimum of 6 months.
  • In 2016, 65.5% of the Swiss voted in favour of a more stringent surveillance law.
  • Switzerland plans to revise their data retention law BÜPF so that all communication data (post, email, phone, text messages, ip addresses) can be stored for 12 months.

From a legal perspective, Switzerland has set precedents that make communications and data stored there more sensitive to access from governments and other associated parties. The laws in Germany are more explicitly protective of the privacy rights of individuals and organizations, while in Switzerland security of data is more implicit from a subtle yet prevalent culture.

3-National Technology and Infrastructure:

Germany:

  • Advanced IT infrastructure.

Switzerland:

  • Advanced IT infrastructure; with large areas dedicated to IT hosting.
  • Bunkers and underground tunnels re-purposed for impervious data storage.
  • Affordable electricity which means lower overall costs.

Both Switzerland and Germany have very sophisticated IT infrastructures, but certain features are unique to Switzerland that could be desirable to larger organizations.

Sources

Secret files scandal:

Switzerland votes in favor of greater surveillance:

Switzerland votes in favor of greater surveillance:

Telecommunications data retention:

Federal data protection act in Germany:

Data Security in Switzerland:

The EU’s highest court rules against data retention:

MR. Robot uses Protonmail but it still isn’t fully secure:

Swiss civil society struggles against digital surveillance laws: https://edri.org/swiss-civil-society-struggles-digital-surveillance-laws/