Understanding the Swiss-US Privacy Shield: A Framework for Data Exchange

Understanding the Swiss-US Privacy Shield: A Framework for Data Exchange
Photo by Daniel Cox / Unsplash

In the digital age, the transfer of personal data across international borders has become a common occurrence. To ensure that these transfers are carried out in a way that respects individual privacy rights, several international frameworks have been established. One such framework is the Swiss-US Privacy Shield.

What is the Swiss-US Privacy Shield?

The Swiss-US Privacy Shield is a framework designed to regulate the exchange of personal data for commercial purposes between Switzerland and the United States. Similar to the EU-US Privacy Shield, it provides Swiss companies with a mechanism to comply with Swiss data protection requirements when transferring personal data from Switzerland to the United States.

The Swiss Federal Council approved the Swiss-US Privacy Shield on January 11, 2017, and it replaced the former Swiss-US Safe Harbor agreement.

Key Principles of the Swiss-US Privacy Shield

The Swiss-US Privacy Shield is based on a set of principles that participating US companies must adhere to. These principles include:

  • Notice: Companies must inform individuals about the type of data collected, the purpose of data collection, the type of third parties to which they disclose the data, and the choices and means the organization offers individuals for limiting the use and disclosure of their personal data.
  • Choice: Companies must give individuals the opportunity to opt out of the disclosure of their personal data to a third party or the use of their personal data for a purpose that is materially different from the purpose for which it was originally collected or subsequently authorized by the individual.
  • Accountability for Onward Transfer: Companies must apply the Notice and Choice principles when they transfer personal data to a third party. They are also required to ensure that the third party provides at least the same level of privacy protection as the Swiss-US Privacy Shield principles require.
  • Security: Companies must take reasonable and appropriate measures to protect personal data from loss, misuse, and unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration, and destruction.
  • Data Integrity and Purpose Limitation: Personal data must be relevant for the purposes for which it is to be used. Companies should take reasonable steps to ensure that data is reliable for its intended use, accurate, complete, and current.
  • Access: Individuals must have access to personal data about them that a company holds and be able to correct, amend, or delete that information where it is inaccurate, or has been processed in violation of the principles, except where the burden or expense of providing access would be disproportionate to the risks to the individual’s privacy, or where the rights of persons other than the individual would be violated.
  • Recourse, Enforcement, and Liability: Companies must provide robust mechanisms for ensuring compliance with the other principles and recourse for individuals who are affected by non-compliance. This includes a requirement to provide independent dispute resolution, and to remedy problems arising out of failure to comply with the principles.

Compliance with the Swiss-US Privacy Shield

To comply with the Swiss-US Privacy Shield, a US company must self-certify annually to the Department of Commerce that it agrees to adhere to the Privacy Shield’s requirements. The company must also publicly declare that it commits to comply with the framework, publicly disclose its privacy policies, and fully implement them.


The Swiss-US Privacy Shield plays a crucial role in enabling the lawful transfer of personal data from Switzerland to the United States, providing essential protections for the privacy rights of individuals. As with any data protection framework, compliance requires a thorough understanding of the principles and a commitment to implementing them fully.

Please note that this article is intended to provide a general overview of the Swiss-US Privacy Shield and does not constitute legal advice. For detailed guidance on compliance with the Swiss-US Privacy Shield, please consult a data protection law expert.