Bilateral data protection framework rules signed between Switzerland and the USA

Bern, 09.12.2008 - As part of the Swiss-US Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum, an exchange of letters was signed today by the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner on the creation of a ‘US-Swiss Safe Harbor Framework’. The framework will simplify the transfer of personal data by Swiss firms to American companies certified by the US Department of Commerce. In addition to administrative simplifications for businesses, the bilateral data protection framework will also strengthen the data protection rights of those concerned with respect to the certified companies.

As US legislation does not, in Switzerland’s view, ensure adequate data protection, companies from both countries must currently conclude an agreement with each other guaranteeing adequate protection and subsequently submit it to the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC) for examination. Only then may personal data from the company in Switzerland be transferred to the company in the USA. 

The ‘US-Swiss Safe Harbor Framework’ simplifies this process. In future, US companies will be able to register and self-certify with the US Department of Commerce that they comply with the data protection principles contained in the ‘US-Swiss Safe Harbor Framework’. An adequate level of data protection is thereby assured and the transfer of personal data between companies in Switzerland and certified US companies is thus permitted. The European Union has operated a similar system since 2000. 

For companies in Switzerland this system has the advantage that when dealing with certified US companies, they are no longer required to negotiate an agreement or notify the FDPIC. Furthermore, the rights of the people concerned are further strengthened by the fact that the US-Swiss Safe Harbour Framework provides for special dispute resolution bodies to which the persons concerned my turn in the event of a data protection infringement. In the USA, the Federal Trade Commission can also take measures against certified companies in serious or repeated cases of data protection infringement. This does not affect the current existing possibilities open to persons concerned to take legal action under private law. 

With the ‘US-Swiss Safe Harbor Framework’, the FDPIC and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) have created a firm foundation, which on the one hand simplifies the transfer of data between Switzerland and the USA for companies, and on the other, strengthens the data protection rights of the persons concerned. The ‘US-Swiss Safe Harbor Framework’ will come into effect in due course.

Address for enquiries

Jean-Philippe Walter, FDPIC
Tel. 031 324 94 10


Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner

Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research