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From Banking Paradise to Data Hub

From Banking Paradise to Data Hub image

BY LAURA SECORUN PALET

Stash gold in a Swiss bank? It’s old hat. Try something really valuable: data.

Swiss vaults have held treasures ranging from Nazi gold to Wall Street fortunes. Now they might become the guardians of the 21st century’s most precious asset. Think thick steel doors, timed locks, biometric sensors — virtual, of course.

Data storage is booming in Switzerland. Attracted by the country’s political neutrality and ironclad privacy laws, a growing number of people and companies are choosing to keep their sensitive information in the nation’s servers.

Behind the rush: Edward Snowden. Since he first blew the whistle on the NSA’s surveillance activities last year, demand has surged for the services of Swiss data storage companies.

“We had 15,000 new customers per month before the NSA affair. We now have 36,000, a 140-percent growth,” says Gianluca Pirrera, from Wuala, a Swiss-made encrypted cloud provider.

Financial secrecy might soon be a thing of the past, as Switzerland has agreed to share tax information with the OECD and over 300 of its private banks to help the U.S. crack down on tax evaders.

Mateo Meier, director of Artmotion, a Swiss host service, says his company witnessed a 45-percent growth in revenue following the first leaks.

While Snowden might have been the catalyst, the NSA is just one in a long list of information-age worries. Data is the lifeblood of business and the economy. Like anything of value, it’s the target of thieves: hackers after money, companies trying to undermine a competitor’s merger or rival nations eager to acquire military intelligence.

“It needs to be well-protected,” says Stinne Petersen, from online storage provider SecureSafe.

That makes Switzerland the place du jour because of its laws. The Swiss Banking Act of 1934 gave the country its celebrity, but financial secrecy might soon be a thing of the past, as Switzerland has agreed to share tax information with the OECD and over 300 of its private banks to help the U.S. crack down on tax evaders.

But the right to data privacy is so deeply rooted that it’s written in the constitution: “Every person has the right to privacy in their private and family life and in their home, and in relation to their mail and telecommunications.”

Information stored on Swiss soil is also protected by the strict Swiss Federal Data Protection Act and Ordinance to the Swiss FDPA, which require a judge’s order to access private data based on substantial evidence of a possible crime. Under the American Patriot Act, by contrast, subpoenas require only a claimed link to “a terror threat.”

“As the country is outside of the EU, it is not bound by pan-European agreements to share data with other member states, or worse, the U.S.,” explains Meier.


Read more: Swiss Data Banks | Fast forward | OZY

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