Federal Council adopts dispatch on Passenger Name Records Act

Bern, 15.05.2024 - At its meeting on 15 May, the Federal Council adopted the dispatch on the Passenger Name Records Act and submitted it to Parliament. The legislation will enable Switzerland to develop a national passenger name records (PNR) system, which will contribute to the fight against terrorism and serious crime. The system will also strengthen Switzerland as a business centre. At the same meeting, the Federal Council also approved a draft negotiating mandate on the exchange of passenger name record data with countries outside the European Union. Negotiations on an agreement with the EU are already underway.

The new law regulates the disclosure of passenger data by Swiss and foreign airlines to the authorities and its processing for the purpose of combating terrorism and other serious crime. Airlines hold a wide range of information provided by passengers when making a booking. The data includes surname, first name, contact details, itinerary, payment details and other information. However, information on sensitive personal data (skin colour, trade union membership, food preferences, etc.) will not be transmitted. In the future, PNR data will be sent to the newly-created Passenger Information Unit (PIU) at the Federal Office of Police (fedpol). The Swiss PIU will be set up from 2025 and become gradually operational from 2026.

In the future, the PIU will automatically check PNR data against the various police databases. If the check returns a match (e.g. a wanted person appears on a passenger list), the result will be checked manually before the data is forwarded to the relevant federal and cantonal authorities, who will decide how to proceed.

The processing of PNR data facilitates the work of law enforcement services in several ways:

  • Persons who are listed in police information systems and are wanted nationally or internationally can be more easily identified before departure;
  • Suspicious persons and criminal networks that are not yet known to the police can be more easily detected on the basis of risk profiles, and appropriate measures taken in good time;
  • Information on a suspect's travel movements can be more easily obtained during a search or investigation.

The use of such data is thus an effective instrument in fighting terrorism and other forms of serious crime. Some 70 countries, including all the member states of the EU, the United States and Canada, have established a national PNR system in accordance with the international requirements of the UN and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Switzerland must also implement these binding UN resolutions and ICAO standards.

Data protection and privacy rights

The protection of passenger data and privacy rights are guaranteed by law. Strict regulations govern access to PNR data and the purposes for which it may be used.

Since the consultation on the draft legislation, the Federal Council has strengthened data protection regulations. For example, the data retention period has been shortened: data that does not contain any tangible evidence of terrorist activity or other forms of serious crime may now not be retained for more than six months. In addition, the data is pseudonymised after one month so that personal data such as name, contact details and date of birth is no longer visible in the system. Data that contains indications of terrorist activity or serious crime, on the other hand, may be retained for up to five years.

Once the law comes into force, compliance with data protection regulations will be monitored by the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC). During the drafting of the bill, a data protection impact assessment (DPIA) was carried out for the first time in accordance with the new Data Protection Act and the concerns of the FDPIC were taken into account.

Consequences of non-participation

Without its own PNR system, Switzerland could become a security vulnerability in Europe. For example, people who use air travel to pursue criminal objectives could circumvent existing PNR systems in the Schengen area by taking a flight to Switzerland and continuing their journey to an EU country by land. Swiss airlines are already required to communicate PNR data for flights departing from Switzerland to certain countries, notably the United States, Canada and the EU member states.

Passenger data also has an important economic dimension for Switzerland. As more and more countries require the exchange of PNR data, Swiss airlines risk being heavily fined or even having their landing rights withdrawn if they fail to transmit PNR data to these countries in the future. In the medium to long term, Switzerland could therefore lose some or all of its international air traffic connections. The United States, for example, has made the exchange of PNR data a condition for continuing participation in the Visa Waiver Program, which permits Swiss nationals to enter the US for business or tourism purposes without a visa.

Negotiating mandates

The mutual exchange of passenger information requires agreements with the EU and third countries (countries outside the European Union). The agreements also regulate data protection, which must meet the legal requirements applicable in Switzerland.

At the 15 May meeting, the Federal Council also adopted a negotiating mandate for a PNR agreement with non-EU states, such as Iceland, Norway and the UK. The negotiating mandate is subject to the approval of the Foreign Affairs Committees of the Swiss Parliament and the Conference of Cantonal Governments of Switzerland.

The Federal Council approved the negotiating mandate for an agreement with the EU on the exchange of PNR data at its meeting on 1 November 2023. The mandate was approved by Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committees in the same month and by the cantons, through the Conference of Cantonal Governments, at the end of January 2024. Official talks with the European Commission began in March of this year.

Address for enquiries

fedpol Communications, T +41 58 463 13 10


The Federal Council

Federal Department of Justice and Police

Federal Office of Police

Last modification 10.06.2024

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