23 August 2006
SWIFT – no violation of Swiss sovereignty
Berne – 23 August 2006
Access to data from SWIFT, which the United States Treasury is using to investigate terrorism, has not violated Swiss sovereignty. This is the conclusion reached by the Federal Council in its response today, to la Commission de gestion du Conseil national. As revealed by the New York Times on 23 June 2006, the US authorities obtained access by subpoena to data relating to international financial flows transmitted over the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide International Financial Telecommunication) network. The company, headquartered in Belgium, has operations in the United States.
At the beginning of July 2006, the Commission de gestion du Conseil national asked the Federal Council to give its opinion. In its response today, the Federal Council underlines that Switzerland takes the fight against terrorism and terrorism financing very seriously. Switzerland works closely and actively on an international level with the United Nations, FATF, and on a bilateral basis with partner countries.
Regarding access to SWIFT data, the Federal Council made it clear that Swiss Franc payments transfers within Switzerland are not generally sent over SWIFT, but through Swiss Interbank Clearing. These transfers are, therefore, not subject to the US programme. The SWIFT network may, on the other hand, be used for transfers made in Switzerland but in a foreign currency. Given that access to SWIFT data took place in the US, based on US law, Swiss sovereignty has not been violated.
One must bear in mind that given the principle of territoriality written into international law, banking secrecy can only be guaranteed on national territory. Therefore, Switzerland can not prevent foreign authorities from getting access abroad to data which, in Switzerland, would be covered by banking secrecy.
For further information: Adriano Däppen, Administration fédérale des finances, tel. +41 31 322 0806