Telecommunications Surveillance Statistics: Stable Figures in 2018

Bern, 21.05.2019 - In 2018, the Swiss prosecution authorities and the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) ordered roughly the same number of surveillance measures from the Post and Telecommunications Surveillance Service (PTSS) as the previous year. According to the figures and a comparison with the total number of offences committed, telecommunications surveillance is used in about 1.5% of all offences. The ratio is highest for felonies and misdemeanours constituting a public danger, felonies and misdemeanours against the administration of justice, and drug trafficking. For the first time, all the figures are presented in dynamic statistics, published on the PTSS website.

This year, the PTSS introduced a new method for counting statistical data as the previous method had resulted in certain measures being counted twice. Therefore, the figures obtained using the previous counting method are shown here first, followed in brackets by those obtained using the new counting method (only for 2018).  This allows a comparison of recent years. However, all future statistics published will be based on the new counting method (for more information on the new counting method, please refer to the infobox).

The number of real-time surveillance measures (listening in on telephone conversations or reading of email messages) and the number of retroactive surveillance measures (telephone records, who called whom, when and for how long etc.) remained stable. In 2018, 2,554 (new counting method: 1,676) real-time surveillance operations were carried out, compared with 2,512 the previous year, and 5,396 (5,225) retroactive surveillance measures were ordered, compared with 5,438 the previous year. Thus, the overall number of surveillance measures remained stable at 7,950. Emergency searches for missing persons rose around 5% to 651 compared to 618 the previous year. A search for escaped prisoners was carried out six times, a measure that has existed since the new law was introduced.

Offences against property, drug trafficking and violent crime

If one compares the number of telecommunications surveillance orders and the total number of offences committed according to police crime statistics (2018: 547,467), one can see that the prosecution authorities ordered telecommunications surveillance for about 1.5% of offences. Felonies and misdemeanours constituting a public danger accounted for the highest share (7.9%), followed by felonies and misdemeanours against the administration of justice (6.4%) and breaches of the penal provisions of the Narcotics Law (3.6%).

IMSI catchers and govware

In 2018, no operations conducted using special computer software (govware) were recorded. Special technical devices (IMSI catchers) was employed 84 times. These tools have been available to the prosecution authorities since the new Federal Act on the Surveillance of Post and Telecommunications Surveillance (BÜPF/APTS) came into force on 1 March 2018. The PTSS lists these measures in its statistics. However, it is the prosecution authorities that are responsible for their implementation.

FIS surveillance

Since 2017, the statistics have also provided information on the surveillance activities of the Federal Intelligence Service (FIS). In 2018-the first full year of statistics-the FIS ordered a total of 422 (388)  surveillance measures compared to 89 the previous year. It should be noted that the FIS and the PTSS use different counting methods (see infobox).

Fees and compensation

The prosecution authorities and the FIS paid a total of CHF 12,063,085 in fees in 2018. Entities obliged to cooperate were paid CHF 6,515,165. The difference-used to finance the PTSS-increased by CHF 1.5 million to around CHF 5.5 million compared with last year. The cost recovery ratio has thus risen slightly from 45% to a good 49%.


The procedure

The Swiss prosecution authorities may order post and telecommunications surveillance measures for the purpose of investigating serious offences in accordance with the Swiss Criminal Procedure Code (CrimPC, SR 312.0). These measures may also be ordered by the Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) under the Intelligence Service Act (ISA; SR 121), which came into force on 1 September 2017.

Every surveillance order issued by a public prosecutor must be examined and approved by the competent judicial approval authority (compulsory measures court) of the cantons or the Confederation. Before any measure is taken, the FIS seeks the approval of the Federal Administrative Court and clearance from the head of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS), which, in turn, consults the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and the head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP).

Finally, the Post and Telecommunications Surveillance Service (PTSS) carries out a formal check to ensure that the ordering authority is in fact competent, that the surveillance order relates to a criminal offence in accordance with the crime list (Art. 269 CrimPC), and, in the case of the FIS, that the information gathering measure-subject to authorisation in accordance with Art. 26ff. ISA-has been approved and cleared. The PTSS then instructs the entities obliged to cooperate to transmit the data concerned to it. It then makes the data available to the evaluating prosecution authorities or the FIS. The PTSS is not aware of the content of the data or the investigations in question. The prosecution authorities and the FIS pay for the surveillance measures to be conducted, and the entities obliged to cooperate are paid for their work. The fees and compensation are determined in accordance with the Ordinance on Fees and Compensation for Post and Telecommunications Surveillance Operations (GebV-ÜPF; SR 780.115.1), also revised on 1 March 2018.

Note on the new counting method

With the entry into force of the new Federal Act on Post and Telecommunications Surveillance (BÜPF/APTS; SR 780.1), the PTSS also introduced a new method for counting statistical data. Essentially, the statistics include all measures taken as part of a surveillance order issued to an entity obliged to cooperate. Orders given to such an entity for technical reasons are an exception, for example because the entity in question requires two orders from the PTSS to execute a measure. These technical orders will no longer be included in the statistics as of this year. Accordingly, the number of real-time surveillance operations based on the new counting method will be lower than that obtained using the previous method.

As before, it should also be noted here that several surveillance orders can be issued for a single offence or an information gathering measure requiring approval. For example, the landline and multiple mobile phones of a suspected offender need to be monitored. In addition, surveillance orders for the same mobile phone number are often issued to multiple entities obliged to cooperate in order to cover all cases of roaming.

Note on the different counting methods of the FIS and PTSS

The FIS and PTSS use different counting methods, and therefore the figures cannot be compared. The PTSS records the number of surveillance orders issued to each entity obliged to cooperate. For example, if three different entities are issued with a surveillance order for the same mobile telephone number, the PTSS shows three separate surveillance orders in its statistics. By contrast, the FIS shows the number of information gathering measures requiring approval, each of which may be subject to several surveillance orders.

Address for enquiries

Nils Güggi (Head of Legal Affairs & Controlling), Post and Telecommunications Surveillance Service, +41 58 463 36 21


Post and Telecommunications Surveillance Service

General Secretariat FDJP