In the 1997 film The Spanish Prisoner, Steve Martin’s conman creates a Swiss bank account with only 15 Swiss francs in it.
“If you ever want to impress anybody, they can find out you have a Swiss account – but Swiss law prohibits the bank from revealing the balance,” Martin tells his trusting mark. “Thus are all men created equal,” he adds.
Swiss bank accounts are renowned for their stability and secrecy, and as Martin alluded to in the film, carry a certain level of prestige. “Dump your cash here, no questions asked” is a compelling feature for many types of individual and corporation.
But according to some, the allure of the Swiss banking industry is starting to rub off on the country’s cloud providers.
As revelations around the US surveillance programme Prism continue to reverberate, coupled with existing fears around the US Patriot Act, you could argue that data privacy is at a low ebb in the US, and across the pond in the EU – after all, the UK’s spy agency, GCHQ, has been heavily implicated in the Prism allegations.
And most of the largest cloud service and storage providers – Amazon Web Services (AWS), Azure from Microsoft, SkyDrive from the same firm, DropBox, Box, and Google Drive – are all based in the US. This means that they are subject to US laws, so the government can request information under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), without the hosting firm’s client ever knowing their data has been accessed.
Proponents of the Swiss hosting industry claim that private hosting companies in the country are experiencing rapid growth because privacy in Switzerland is enshrined in law. And because the country is outside the EU, it is not bound by pan-European agreements to share data with other member states, or the US.
Mateo Meier runs what he describes as an “ultra secret” hosting company called Artmotion, which he claims serves some of the world’s biggest banks and tobacco companies. According to Meier, his firm has seen 45 per cent growth in the wake of recent security and data privacy fears.
“Unlike the US or the rest of Europe, Switzerland offers many data security benefits,” says Meier. “For instance, as the country is not a member of the EU, the only way to gain access to the data hosted within a Swiss data centre is if the company receives an official court order proving guilt or liability. This procedure applies to all countries requesting any information from a Swiss data centre and unlike in the EU there is no special law for the US.”