I wrote to the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs in March 2022 to express my concern about the impact of article 47 of the Swiss Banking Act on the internationally protected right to freedom of expression. Anyone disclosing client data in violation of this provision of the Banking Act faces criminal penalties, including the media. The circumstances where disclosure would be permitted is limited and the Banking Act does not provide for an exception that would cover whistleblowing or journalists.
Following an initial response from the Swiss authorities, I visited Bern in November 2022 to discuss my concerns in greater depth with Federal officials, and to meet with various civil society organisations and journalists interested in the law. A process is underway in the Swiss Parliament to decide whether article 47 should be changed to allow the media to report on leaked banking data without fear of criminal prosecution. At my request, in April 2023 the Swiss authorities sent an explanation of the legal provision with a caveat that it should not be taken as authoritative legal advice. Meanwhile, domestic and international interest in article 47 of the Banking Act, including media coverage and my interventions, has led Switzerland to review its banking secrecy law to determine whether it is inconsistent with its commitment to media freedom.
The full text of the 14 April 2023 letter may be found below.