Swiss Saturday: I Learned I’m a Scofflaw

by Evil HR Lady on February 22, 2020

I’ve lived in Switzerland for almost 11 years, and yet there are still new things for me to learn. Like, for instance, I learned that this picture may be illegal:

It’s not potentially illegal because it shows people about to go torch city hall, even though it may look that way.

It’s potentially illegal because there are humans in there and I didn’t get their permission to take the picture or share it on the internet. I have no idea who these people are.

Also, they are just participating in Chienbäse, which is part of the Fasnacht celebration in Liestal, which is a nearby town. It’s an old celebration where they march through confetti covered streets with fire while everyone is drunk. Here’s a great video:

But, I digress. We were talking about illegal photos. Or videos, for that matter. This person doesn’t have express permission to film these people either.

See, in the United States, there’s no expectation of privacy when you’re in public. You can take a picture of just about anyone and anything.

But, in Switzerland, you have the (limited) right not to be photographed, or rather to have the photo deleted if someone takes one without permission.

Now, there are exceptions, of course! And, chances are both my photo and this video fall into the exceptions, because the photos/film isn’t focused on a person, but people happen to be in the pictures. News is exempt, of course. So is art. If you’re taking a picture of your child and someone else is in the background, as long as that person isn’t the focus, it’s probably okay.

I say probably, because it’s not entirely clear what counts as art and what counts as focusing on a person and what counts as news.

However, clearly having lived here for 11 years and just learning about this a week ago, I can say it’s not enforced and not a big deal. However, it would prevent a “People of Walmart” type website of pictures of people in Switzerland.

Good? Bad? I’m not a fan. I agree with the idea that if you’re in public, there’s no expectation of privacy. But, I also think you should be polite and not take embarrassing pictures of people, nor should you take pictures of other people’s children. But, I don’t want to make it illegal.

And, it turns out that I don’t take a lot of pictures that include identifiable anonymous people. So, I’m not a very good scofflaw.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Herr Hairless February 23, 2020 at 1:37 am

Switzerland is slowly, only begrudgingly, being Street Viewed by Google.
https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/eagle-eye_google-beefs-up-restricted-swiss-street-view/41439290
Germany and Austria: Terra incognita!
https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/germany-street-view

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Tony February 23, 2020 at 6:02 am

Well, law can merely be a way to draw lines, rather than to force people to stay in them. A busybody may think it’s good, so they can complain. However, if they’re judged a busybody, the complaint might lead to nowhere.

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MtnLaurel February 24, 2020 at 9:41 pm

Keep up the practice! I’m sure you’ll be a good scofflaw someday. 😉

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Elizabeth Voss February 25, 2020 at 10:15 pm

Not HR-related, but I find this so interesting. I lived in Illnau, Switzerland (outside of Zurich) for a year in the mid-90s. While there I had my third child. I found going in public challenging at first because people in Switzerland have a very different concept of personal space than I did as an American, and to them staring directly and intently at others while inside a personal space zone was totally acceptable behavior. How odd that they are on board for staring you down from head to toe while standing 12-18 inches from you, but they expect privacy. Have you noticed how close a reserved Swiss person will stand near you while totally scoping you out?

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