Swiss fears visas linked to open-ended US data demands prove unfounded
BERN, SWITZERLAND – Switzerland will continue to be part of the US Visa Waiver Program, known to travelers as the Esta requirement. Swiss nationals can enter the US without a visa for up to 90 days if they have an Esta, or Electronic System for Travel Authorization. The Federal Office of Police negotiated the agreement “in line with the mandate issued by the Federal Council”, says Bern.
The agreement was signed Tuesday 26 June in Bern by US Ambassador Donald Beyer and Jean Luc-Vez, director of the Federal Office of Police.
The agreement brings to an end earlier concerns voiced by Swiss journalists and politicians over US demands for data swaps in exchange for allowing Swiss citizens to visit for tourism or on business.
Data exchanges between the US and Switzerland, including fingerprints and DNA, must be limited to serious crime cases, the foreign affairs commission of the upper house of the Swiss parliament insisted in March.
It voted 20 March in favour of the government concluding agreements with the US covering data swaps as well as the exchange of information about supposed terrorists, but with reservations about data protection.
The United States recently changed its policy, requiring the 36 countries who are party to the VWP to sign two agreements on security cooperation in order to remain in the programme:
- the Preventing and Combating Serious Crime (PCSC) agreement, which provides for the exchange of fingerprints and DNA data
- and the Homeland Security Presidential Directive or HSPD-6, a memorandum of understanding on exchanging intelligence on persons suspected or known to be engaged in terrorist activities.
Bern Wednesday detailed the agreement:
“The scope of application of the PCSC agreement has been restricted to serious crime and to other serious crimes punishable by imprisonment of more than three years. An annex to the agreement details the criminal offences that are considered serious under the agreement. The agreement also regulates in detail the issue of data protection; among other things, Switzerland and the United States have undertaken to correct, block, or delete personal data if one of the parties to the agreement so requests. What is more, the United States accepts a quota on information requests, to be determined mutually.
“PCSC agreement subject to optional referendum
“The PCSC agreement is subject to approval by parliament and optional referendum. The agreement governs the mutual exchange of fingerprint and DNA data used for combating serious crime. Data are to be exchanged in two steps: first, a request for information is to be made to see whether certain data are stored in one of the databases operated by the other party. The result returned is either “hit” or “no hit,” meaning that the other party to the agreement has some information or has no information available in its databases. If a hit has been returned, personal data and further information relevant to a case are disclosed to the requesting party in the second step.”