06:35 AM ET 12/28/97

Tracking of Swiss mobile phone users starts row

	    ZURICH, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Swiss police have secretly
tracked the whereabouts of mobile phone users via a telephone
company computer that records billions of movements going back
more than half a year, a Sunday newspaper reported.
	    The revelation in the SonntagsZeitung newspaper triggered
objections from politicians and the country's privacy ombudsman
about high-tech snooping on citizens who like the convenience of
a mobile phone.
	    Officials from state telephone company Swisscom confirmed
the practice, but insisted information about mobile customers
was only handed out on court orders.
	    ``Swisscom has stored data on the movements of more than a
million mobile phone users. It can call up the location of all
its mobile subscribers down to a few hundred meters and going
back at least half a year,'' the paper reported.
	    ``When it has to, it can exactly reconstruct down to the
minute who met whom, where and for how long for a confidential
tete-a-tete,'' it said.
	    Some 3,000 base stations across the country track the
location of mobile phones as soon as they are switched on, not
just when customers are having conversations, it said.
	    Prosecutors called the records a wealth of information that
helped track criminals' movements.
	    ``This is a very efficient investigation tool,'' Renato
Walti, an investigating magistrate in Zurich who specialises in
organised crime, was quoted as telling the paper.
	    The paper said Swisscom and law-enforcement officials were
reluctant to discuss the records, which were supposed to be
	    But it quoted Toni Stadelmann, head of Swisscom's mobile
phone division, as saying: ``We release the movement profile of
mobile telephone customers on a judge's order.''
	    SonntagsZeitung said there was no legal basis for storing
such information.
	    ``I am unaware of any law that would allow the preventative
collection of data for investigative purposes,'' it quoted Odilo
Guntern, the federal ombudsman for protecting individuals'
privacy, as saying.
	    ``Secretly collecting data is highly problematic,'' added
Alexander Tschaeppat, a judge and member of the lower house of