Post and Telecommunications Surveillance Service

The PTSS: an overview

When investigating serious offences, the federal and cantonal law enforcement authorities can order measures to monitor postal and telecommunications activity. Since 1 September 2017, the Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) has also been authorised to order surveillance measures from the FSP Service in case of a threat to Switzerland's internal or external security. Since 1 January 1998, the Post and Telecommunications Surveillance Service (PTSS) has been responsible for carrying out these measures; it also ensures that the applicable legislation is observed. The authorities make a request for data to the PTSS, which then obtains the data from the telecommunications service providers (TSPs); this is then passed on to investigators for analysis.

Neither crime nor modern telecommunications recognise geographical boundaries, so international cooperation plays an essential role in the fight against crime. The PTSS works to promote international standardisation and the exchange of knowledge and information with our counterparts abroad.

The PTSS acts independently and autonomously and is not subject to directives from other authorities. It is affiliated for administrative purposes to the IT Service Centre of the Federal Department of Justice and Police (ISC-FDJP). The revised Federal Act on the Surveillance of Post and Telecommunications (SPTA) and the associated implementing ordinances gave the service a clear, up-to-date legal framework. It is now organised into four divisions.

Leitung ÜPF
The PTSS management team (from left to right) : René Koch (Head of the PTSS and of the Administrative Criminal Proceedings Division until 31.05.2023), Jean-Louis Biberstein (Deputy Head of the PTSS / Head of the Legal Affairs and Controlling Division), Alexandre Suter (Head of the Provider Management Division) and Michael Galliker (Head of the Surveillance Management Division)

Legal Affairs and Controlling

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is one of the most innovative sectors in the economy. It regularly introduces new standards, launching new services for increasingly powerful computers, smartphones and other terminal devices. This has consequences for telecommunications surveillance as the technical interface between the PTSS’s processing system and the several hundred TSPs needs to be constantly adapted.

The IT specialists and their colleagues in the Legal Affairs and Controlling Division ensure that, even in a highly dynamic technological environment, it is always possible to conduct telecommunications surveillance. The division is responsible for planning and managing all IT projects critical to the PTSS’s mandate.

In addition to its responsibility for IT projects, the team of 16 draws up the legal framework necessary to ensure that surveillance is correctly conducted. This safeguards the public’s right to privacy and is a key requirement in ensuring the data gathered can be used in court. 

This largely involves adapting ordinances to reflect the latest technological changes. For example, the departmental ordinance on conducting surveillance in post and telecommunications services (VD-ÜPF) is revised each year and amended if necessary.

The Legal Affairs and Controlling Division also deals with financial management, reporting and public relations. The staff respond to scores of media enquiries each year and are available to respond to queries from the general public.

Provider Management

The 21 staff of the Provider Management Division are responsible for creating and keeping up to date the technical specifications that the TSPs are required to observe when providing data to the PTSS. They are also responsible for the compliance procedure, in which the PTSS establishes whether the TSPs are able to monitor their telecommunications services and provide information and data as required.

Under the SPTA, TSPs must at all times, be able to monitor the services they offer and to provide the associated data and information, unless they are legally exempted from the obligation to do so.

The Provider Management Division’s Special Case Team develops tailor-made solutions for TSPs that are not themselves able to implement surveillance measures, or who are not legally required to do so. The team is therefore involved when, for example, a small provider such as a local cable network or hotel is required to conduct surveillance activities.

The staff also manage relations with more than 700 providers, advise them on technical and legal matters and issues related to orders and decisions within the scope of their supervisory authority.

A team of four is responsible for ensuring the smooth functioning of the applications of the data processing system.

Furthermore, the Provider Management experts help to develop new applications and are active on a number of national and international standardisation committees, for example for the development and implementation of interface specifications for 4G/5G networks.

Surveillance Management

The 16 members of the Surveillance Management Division handle the PTSS’s interaction with the prosecution authorities and the Federal Intelligence Service (FIS). The team advises the police forces and public prosecution services on all legal, technical, organisational and administrative matters relating to postal and telecommunications surveillance.

The staff deal with the surveillance orders, which they check for completeness before passing them on to the TSPs.The team ensures that the prosecution authorities receive the data the TSPs subsequently deliver. Surveillance management also includes drawing up invoices for the prosecution authorities and the FIS and making payments to the TSPs.

Along with the IT operator, the team is responsible for incident and problem management regarding detected or suspected IT errors. It is involved in the development of new applications and provides internal and external first- and second-level support.

The Surveillance Management team also runs training sessions for the prosecution authorities and the FIS. Outside office hours, it provides a duty service with the technical support of the Provider Management Division. This means the PTSS is available round the clock.

Administrative Criminal Proceedings

For further information about the division Administrative Criminal Proceedings go to this page.


Last updated: 24.08.2023 - 16:36