State security files and dossiers: access procedure and practical information

Swiss state security created hundreds of thousands of files until the Secret Files Scandal broke at the end of the 1980s. Today, these files are located in the Swiss Federal Archives. Anyone wishing to view them must first submit an application.

Into the Federal Archives in two tranches

The state security files at the heart of the "Secret File Scandal" in 1989 and 1990 (see "Political police and state security in Switzerland") are today located in the Swiss Federal Archives in the fonds of the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland: files, index cards and collections of the police service (1870-1994). The files are in the form of A5-size index cards, organised by the names of people, organisations, events and publications and relate mainly to the period from 1930 to 1989. The files were originally used as a register search tool and bear cross-references to documents filed in dossiers relating to persons and events that were held by the police service and the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland. These dossiers have an overall scope of a few hundred linear metres and are also located in the Swiss Federal Archives.

The majority of files were delivered to the Swiss Federal Archives in two tranches. Their signatures are: CH-BAR#E4320-01C#1990/134#[...]* and CH-BAR#E4320-01C#1996/203#[...]*. The dossiers on topics and people to which the files bear reference belong to the two sub-fonds Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland: police service (1931-1959) and Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland: police service (1960-1999)

Access to documents

The documents mentioned here are freely accessible after the expiry of a retention period of 50 years in accordance with Art. 12 para. 1 and Art. 26 of the Federal Act on Archiving (BGA, SR 152.1) and Appendix 3 of the Archiving Ordinance (VBGA, SR 152.11). The duration of the retention period is determined by the most recent entry to a file or by the closure date of the most recent document in a dossier. However, access to view files may be submitted in writing before expiry of the retention period. It will be evaluated in accordance with the criteria defined in Art. 18 VBGA.

Applications for viewing access

Applications to view files must be submitted in writing via Online access to the Swiss Federal Archives: application to view. The Swiss Federal Archives will clarify in a first step whether state security files on a specific person or organisation exist. If this proves to be the case and the files are still subject to a retention period, the SFA will forward the application to the relevant authority. The authority reserves the right to obtain additional information from the applicant with regards to the purpose of obtaining access to the files or the consent of the persons to whom they relate ("Declaration of Consent"). Anyone wishing to view their own state security file should also enclose a copy of their identity card or passport. Processing an application will usually take four to six weeks. Applicants can submit a complaint in the event their application is rejected.

Research: from file to dossier

If the application is approved, the state security files can be viewed in the reading room of the Federal Archives. The applicant can then locate the documents to which the files bears references on the basis of the details recorded in the file and the search in the online access of the SFA. These researches will need to be carried out by the researchers themselves. An additional written application is required to consult dossiers that are still subject to a retention period.

Example of a state security file

The left-hand column of the index card indicates the file reference number of the dossier in which the registered document is filed. However, the subject-matter of the dossier does not necessarily reference the registered person or organisation. Only file references noted in the field at the top right reference a dossier whose title contains the name of the registered person or organisation.

The file reference numbers have two different structures: the name of the dossier from sub-fonds CH-BAR#E4320B is structured as shown in sample C.16.981 (cp. the sample below), whilst those from sub-fonds CH-BAR#E4320C look like the sample (0:135)80.

The middle column bears the date of the document in question.

The right-hand column contains a summary of the contents (Regest). These details allow an estimation of the relevance of the listed documents with regard to a specific issue.

The illustration shows a freely accessible document whose retention period has expired (signature: CH-BAR#E4320-01C#1990/134, Vol. 129).

Last modification 12.12.2022

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