Swiss govt tightens computer security amid NSA spying concerns

February 06, 2014 

Citing worries about foreign surveillance efforts, the government of Switzerland has ordered tighter control methods on its own computer and phone technology systems in order to prevent Swiss communications from being monitored.

The Swiss Federal Council, a seven-member committee that serves as the head of the Swiss government and is responsible for enacting federal policy, admitted concern about other governments spying on official communications within Switzerland.

A government statement as quoted by the Associated Press indicated that future contracts for IT infrastructure will “where possible, only be given to companies that act exclusively according to Swiss law, where a majority of the ownership is in Switzerland and which provides all of its services within Switzerland's borders.”

The legislation covers contracts with the military, along with mobile phones and computers.

Wednesday's announcement comes after the Swiss Federal Prosecutor's office launched a criminal investigation based on the “genuine suspicion” that foreign entities conducted surveillance in Switzerland. The Swiss News Agency reported in December that article 271 of the Swiss penal code, which includes punishable acts by a foreign state, had been broken.

Various clarifications are under way, and will be later examined,” one official said at the time.

That probe was ordered after NSA revelations emerged from whistleblower Edward Snowden. Along with documents detailing major American covert surveillance operations conducted throughout the world, Snowden told the Guardian newspaper that he had worked in Geneva, Switzerland in 2007.

Working for the Central Intelligence Agency under the guise of a US diplomat, Snowden said that it was in Geneva where he first encountered the vast scope of the American intelligence apparatus. Snowden said it was a “formative” moment and the first time he questioned the “rightness” of the US intelligence effort.

He also claimed that, as part of gathering intelligence on secret financial information, CIA agents would get Swiss bankers drunk and “encourage” the individuals to drive home. When that person would inevitably be arrested, the CIA would offer to spring him loose in exchange for his cooperation. US officials have since maintained that American officials stationed in Switzerland respect the country's laws.

Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” Snowden said. “I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”

Switzerland's Federal Department of Foreign Affairs told ABC News last year they had “taken note” of Snowden's comments and requested “clarification” from the US State Department's office in Bern.

In accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Switzerland expects the members of the diplomatic missions in Bern and members of the permanent mission in Geneva to comply with the laws and rules of the country of residence,” the statement said.

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