While Switzerland has one of the freest internet infrastructures, it's not without its problems.
Primarily, privacy is a big concern due to legislation designed to increase logging and record keeping. Laws require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to log IP addresses and web server access details and retain them for six months.
Luckily, a Swiss VPN shall help you protect against this, and also allow you to access geographically restricted content.
Switzerland is somewhat at odds with the rest of Europe when it comes to internet surveillance, data retention, and online piracy. It is not part of the European Union, and therefore not subject to the EU Data Retention Directive 2006.
However, Switzerland introduced its data retention laws, which came into force in January 2002. These were Article 15 Federal Law of 6 October 2000 on the monitoring of Posts and Telecommunications (BÜPF), and Regulation of 31 October 2001 on the monitoring of Posts and Telecommunications (VÜPF)).
Luckily, it lacks censorship and restrictive internet legislation compared to the majority of other countries. Reporters Without Borders ranked Switzerland seventh out of 180 countries in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
However, as mentioned a VPN in Switzerland will help you avoid the government logging, and access restricted content.
Best Swiss VPN Services
For protecting your privacy, a VPN is essential. As such, let’s take a closer look at the best Swiss VPN services.
- CyberGhost - Longtime top ranked VPN, with great price and speeds
- ExpressVPN - The fastest VPN we test, unblocks everything, with amazing service all round
- NordVPN - Large brand with very good value, and a budget price
- PrivateVPN - One of the cheapest VPNs out there, but still a good service
- IPVanish - Apps for all platforms | Fast connections | No logs policy
Swiss VPN Considerations
The Swiss government has a relatively great power of internet surveillance. It has the right to employ spyware for ‘particularly serious offenses.’ These include the financing of terrorism, criminal organizations, and child pornography.
Such methods are only permitted when law enforcement authorities have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed. They are not a preventative method. Still, in the hunt for illegal activity, your data could be at risk of becoming collateral damage. The authorities could capture it because it was transmitted from the wrong network interface at the wrong time.
In September 2016, Swiss authorities enacted legislation requiring authorities to notify citizens who have been surveillance targets. Previously, in January 2013, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga announced that the government was looking into expanding its surveillance powers to include the ability to monitor Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and instant messaging (IM) services.
In September 2017, a new law that was voted on a year before went into full effect. The law gives the FIS (Federal Intelligence Service) much more power to monitor citizens’ private communications. Authorities can now tap phones, capture personal emails and text messages, and monitor internet traffic. In fact, authorities can even install malware on citizens’ phones and computers to monitor webcam activity. They can also listen in through a smartphone microphone and steal personal information.
It has never been more crucial to use a VPN tunnel to protect your privacy in Switzerland. Even if you don’t want to pay for quality service, I highly recommend, at the very least, using one of the best free VPNs. VPNs are still perfectly legal and ethical to use in Switzerland. Thus I recommend protecting yourself from third-party eavesdroppers, be they the authorities or hackers.
Though Switzerland still has a free and open internet, things are starting to change. On 29 September 2017, the Swiss parliament introduced its first major legislation to attempt to filter the internet.
The Money Gaming Act blocks online gambling portals. Taxation and economic concerns motivated the new law. Swiss gambling establishments were losing significant revenue to online international gambling sites. Thus the Money Gaming Act aims to benefit local gambling organizations. However, it could be the forerunner of further legislation to restrict and filter the web.
Whether you’re a traveler or resident in Switzerland, it’s inadvisable to attempt to circumvent the filter with proxy connections or other solutions to access gambling sites. Doing so would be a direct violation of the new laws, and could incite harsh consequences.
The mandatory data retention laws in Switzerland do not apply to VPN providers. VPN providers are under no obligation to keep logs of their users’ activities. These laws make Switzerland a desirable location to locate VPN servers. Also, the icing on the cake is that the Swiss government permits copyright piracy for personal use. It is still illegal to try to distribute pirated content for profit.
In September 2010, the Swiss High Court ruled that copyright troll legal firm Logistep AG was acting illegally when it collected IP addresses of people it believed were guilty of copyright infringement. The court ruled that this was a breach of the country’s privacy laws. That ruling protects not only downloaders but also casual uploaders. In response, entertainment industry pressure groups campaigned for a change in the law. They cited damage to business and loss of profits for entertainers.
Effects of Piracy
For the reasons mentioned above, the Swiss government commissioned a study on the matter. Somewhat to the surprise of copyright enforcement bodies, the study concluded that, despite around a third of the Swiss population being involved in downloading movies and music, there was no negative impact on the amount people spend on entertainment. There may, in fact, be a slight gain. Results from a Dutch study in 2010 indicated that ‘pirates’ spend more on media, attend more concerts, and visit gaming websites more than ‘non-pirates.’
The Swiss study also concluded that piracy was almost impossible to prevent. The responsibility lays on the entertainment industry to adapt to the new realities if it wished to survive. The report concluded,
“Every time a new media technology has been made available, it has always been ‘abused’. This is the price we pay for progress. Winners will be those who are able to use the new technology to their advantages and losers those who missed this development and continue to follow old business models.”
The government decided, in light of this report, that no change in the law the was necessary. It also rejected blocking website IPs, arguing that doing so would damage freedom of speech and violate privacy protection laws.
Using VPNs in Switzerland
Swiss internet users, therefore, do not need to use a VPN service to protect themselves against copyright enforcement. However, they have a strong incentive to use one to defend themselves against government surveillance. A VPN can also protect against LAN-based attacks, such as hackers performing packet captures on public wireless networks.
It is usually a bad idea to use a VPN service (and servers) located in your own country. Doing so makes it easy for authorities to demand the VPN hand over its logs. Furthermore, your data may travel a greater distance in a decrypted format between the VPN server and the real destination server. Thus it’s generally advisable to terminate your VPN connection as close to the destination host as possible.
However, with no required data retention for VPN providers, Swiss users can happily use local servers.
For those outside the country, Switzerland makes an ideal VPN connection endpoint.
Switzerland VPNs Conclusion
The Swiss government already has robust data surveillance capabilities. Though it’s not clear what the future holds, it seems to be moving towards greater monitoring powers. The best way to protect your data from third-party eavesdropping and snooping is to encrypt it with a VPN. I’m a strong advocate for online privacy and security and recommend that you start using a VPN immediately if you’re not already.
With one of the best VPNs for Switzerland, you can drastically increase your personal data security and privacy.