Don’t Tread on Me: Has the United States Government’s Quest for Customer Records from UBS Sounded the Death Knell for Swiss Bank Secrecy Laws

Bondi, Bradley J. | January 1, 2010

Privacy protection is a defining characteristic of Swiss culture and a pillar of the Swiss economy. For centuries, the Swiss people have coveted the principles of individual privacy, regularly reaffirming those principles in response to referendums designed to limit them. Swiss banking secrecy, one aspect of privacy, is protected by Swiss criminal and civil laws and professional duties. Swiss banks pride themselves on protecting customer identity and have leveraged their legal and cultural commitment to secrecy to gain a competitive advantage in the global banking market. This brief Article discusses the Swiss banking laws that prohibit a Swiss bank from disclosing client information even if those Swiss laws are at odds with United States law. The Article then provides an overview of the UBS matter. Finally, the Article briefly analyzes the UBS dispute over the account information under a conflicts of law framework to hypothesize on the outcome had the matter been decided by the court. Analyzing the UBS dispute may prove useful in predicting the outcome of inevitable future disputes between the United States government and global banks over confidential client information.