Summary: Information Commissioner Rules That Specific Company Register Law Trumps Access to Information Law

Request sent to Business and Enterprise Register (BER)
Outcome of request Information refused
Time taken to respond 6 working days (Deadline is 20 working days)
Reason for refusal
Another law overrides FOI law
Only need to answer requests for individual records.
Personal privacy.


On 20 August 2013, Access Info sent a request to the Business and Enterprise Register, asking for access to a full copy of the Swiss company register database. The Swiss access to information law establishes a 20 working-day deadline for the public administration to respond to requests for information.

The Swiss Business and Enterprise Register responded on 5 September 2013, stating that their register was not public and that according to the rules for the protection of personal privacy, they were prohibited from transferring personal data to us. They also informed us, however, that this data could be accessed via private companies that sold access to the company register database.

We responded on 12 September 2013 that we were fully aware that private companies were selling the data, but we insisted that we were seeking access to the complete company register under the Swiss access to information law, and we asked them to please confirm if they were in effect covered by that law. We asked them to please provide us with the information requested, but to blank out the personal data if that was necessary under the data protection and personal privacy law.

On 19 September 2013, the Swiss Business and Enterprise Register responded that it was in fact covered by the access to information law but that it was also covered by the law on federal statistics and by the law on company registers. They argued that the latter laws provided for specific conditions for accessing information whilst the transparency law was of a more general nature. Therefore, they argued that the access to information law should be subordinated to the specific company register and federal statistics laws.

On 26 September 2013, we asked what the procedures were for appealing against their decision, and were informed the following day that we should submit an complaint before the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Transparency.

On 9 October 2013, Access Info Europe appealed to the Swiss Commissioner for Data Protection and Transparency, calling on the institution to review whether the Federal Statistics Act should really take precedence over the Federal Act on the Principle of Freedom of Information Administration, given that the latter serves to give effect to a fundamental human right which in Access Info’s analysis means that it should prevail in case of a conflict between different laws.

On 25 November 2014, over one year after Access Info filed the complaint, the Swiss Commissioner for Data Protection and Transparency ruled that the Swiss Federal Office of Statistics, which is responsible for the Register of Business Entities was bound to respect the more specific laws on the company register, over the more general access to information law.

The Information Commissioner stated that since the law on access to information did not require the requestor to state the reasons for his or her request, there was no possibility of knowing whether the conditions for accessing the register under the specific company register laws had in fact been met in this case.

However, the Information Commissioner also called on the Federal Office of Statistics to pay attention to our arguments and to review the conditions for accessing the data in the company registers during the next revision of the company register law.

Accessing the Swiss Company Register

Information available (for free) The BER includes the following data:

  • Name and address of the enterprise or business
  • Municipality number
  • BER number (non-identifiable 8 figure identification number)
  • Number of employees by sex and working hours
  • Type of economic activity (NOGA)
  • Legal form
  • Date of entry or cancellation in trade register
  • Date of notification of opening or closing of enterprise or business
  • Capital stock of limited company
  • Turnover (in progress, not yet integrated)
  • For agricultural enterprises: the number of large cattle units, information on land use, profession and age of head of enterprise
  • For state-owned forestry enterprises: forest area

The BER may include the following data:

  • Telephone number
  • Email address
  • Structure of the enterprise (siege)
  • Dependence relation with foreign companies
  • Turnover
  • Major financial participations in other enterprises in %
  • Indication whether the unit is an import or export unit
Provision for public access It is free to access simple, non-certified information and cantonal, communal and confederation statistical services. You can search both at the federal level, and within specific cantons. However, you need to pay in order to get certified excerpts of information collected in the BER register from the FSO (article 13).
The FSO can only communicate data on the economic activities and the structure of the company if the concerned company does not expressly object to it and if the data cannot be linked to a particular deed that we can attribute to a company.
Cost per record Depends on the canton. For example the canton of Friburg:

  • Certified excerpt: CHF 50 (41.63 Euros)
  • Certified copies of documents (memorandum and articles of associations etc): CHF 20-120 (roughly 17-100 Euros depending on no of copies)

General rules for each canton:

  • Certified excerpt: up to CHF 120 (100 Euros)
  • Negative clearance (non-registered company): CHF 20 (roughly 17 Euros)
  • Copies of supporting documents (articles of association, PV, etc) issued to the public: CHF 10-120 (roughly 8.33-100 Euros) if they are dated and certified.
Cost for whole database Whole database cannot be downloaded or ordered. Specific information must be requested.


Additional Information:
Switzerland´s Right to Information (RTI) Rating (Click here)
´s Federal Act on Freedom of Information in the Administration (Click here)
Switzerland’s company register (Click here)