The decision by the Federal Information and Data Protection Commissioner comes on the heels of consistent pressure from Privacy International, Swiss journalists, and several Members of Parliament on policymakers, government officials, and companies in Switzerland over the past year and a half. The commissioner’s decision was the result of a FOI challenge filed against the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) for its refusal to reveal information regarding the destination of the pending exports for surveillance technologies.
According to the now-public documents, mobile phone surveillance and internet monitoring technologies were the main equipment either being sold or attempted to be sold by Swiss surveillance companies. Twenty one export licenses were granted for IMSI catchers in 2014, and were destined for countries all over the world, including Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Thailand, for a total cost of 8 million CHF (£5.2 million). Fourteen countries, including Ethiopia, Yemen, Malaysia, Russia, and Turkmenistan, attempted to buy internet monitoring equipment, but these requests were ultimately retracted due to the higher level of scrutiny paid on the industry in Switzerland.