Access to documents in the Federal Archives is governed by the Federal Act on Archiving (ArchA) and the Freedom of Information Act. ArchA sets out closure periods during which documents can only be consulted subject to authorisation. Once this period has expired, they are available without restriction and free of charge.
The Federal Act on Archiving (ArchA, SR 152.1) distinguishes four types of closure periods (see below). The majority of the documents in the Federal Archives are no longer subject to a closure period. Of the remainder, most are subject to a closure period of 30 years under Article 9 ArchA.
If you wish to consult documents that are still subject to a statutory closure period, you need to submit a request to the Swiss Federal Archives (SFA). If other people (e.g. family members) wish to consult the same documents, they also need to submit a request.
For archived documents that were created on or after 1 July 2006, access may be obtained under ArchA and in accordance with the Federal Act on Freedom of Information in the Administration (FoIA, SR 152.3). In this case, the two Acts apply in parallel. The office responsible will assess requests according to whichever is more favourable to the applicant.
Requests to consult records
You can submit requests to consult records in www.swiss-archives.ch or Local Swiss Archives by placing the selected dossiers in the shopping cart and selecting the option “Request to consult records” under “Delivery” (Instruction: Submitting a request to consult records (PDF, 188 kB, 15.07.2016)). Please use the form request to consult records (PDF, 164 kB, 26.04.2016) only for documents which are not yet been described in (Local) Swiss Archives. If you wish to consult documents relating to yourself, you need to attach a copy of an official identification document (identity card, passport) to your request. The SFA will forward your request to the office responsible, which will then decide whether the request can be granted. You will normally receive a decision within four weeks. Requests for a large number of documents may take longer to process.
Authorisation to consult records
The majority of requests are approved, sometimes subject to conditions. You will be notified in writing when authorisation has been granted. You can order documents for which authorisation has been granted via www.swiss-archives.ch, either to consult them free of charge in the reading room or as a reproduction, for which a fee is charged.
The authorisation normally allows you to consult the documents. If you wish to publish them, you should contact the administrator responsible.
Refusal of authorisation
You will also be notified in writing if your request is refused. You can then request an appealable ruling on the decision under ArchA or mediation under the FoIA.
Closure periods under the Federal Act on Archiving (ArchA)
Closure period under Art. 9 ArchA
Art. 9 ArchA stipulates a closure period of 30 years for documents. The closure period is calculated from the year in which the dossier was completed, i.e. the date of the most recent document.
Documents that were already publicly accessible before they were submitted to the Federal Archives remain publicly accessible thereafter.
Closure period under Art. 11 ArchA
Documents that are catalogued by persons’ names and contain sensitive personal data or personality profiles as defined in the Data Protection Act are subject to an extended closure period of 50 years. The extension of the closure period ceases to apply if the person concerned has consented in writing to the documents being consulted, or died more than three years previously. The above is subject to Art. 12.1 and 12.2 ArchA.
Closure period under Art. 12.1 ArchA
For certain categories of documents, the Federal Council may extend the closure period if they touch on matters where there is an overriding and legitimate public or private interest in preventing consultation. The documents concerned are listed in Annex 3 to the Ordinance to ArchA (ArchO, SR 152.11), which is published annually.
Closure period under Art. 12.2 ArchA
If there is an overriding and legitimate public or private interest, the body submitting the documents or the Federal Archives may extend the closure period in individual cases (usually relating to an individual dossier).
A list of documents protected under Art. 12.2. ArchA is published every six months by the Swiss Federal Archives: List of protected documents (PDF, 2 MB, 24.06.2019) (in German)
Last modification 26.06.2019