Research involving work with personal data

Research which involves the collection or processing of personal data, regardless of the method by which they are/were collected should comply with the Federal Act on Data Protection (‘Loi fédérale sur la protection des données’, 235.1). The aim of this Act is to protect the privacy and the fundamental rights of persons when their data is processed. The FDP is currently under revision. The revision of the Act has been motivated by changes in European legislation and by the emergence of new technologies.

As of 25 May 2018, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (EU-GDPR) will enter into force. This Regulation will apply in the EU and it replaces Directive 94/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 1995. Despite the fact that Switzerland is not a member of the EU, the new EU-GDPR has direct consequences for Switzerland.

For further information on the EU-GDPR, see the EPFL Data Protection web-site.

Ethical clearance of research projects involving personal data:

Research projects involving the processing of (sensitive) personal data may need an authorization from either the cantonal ethics committee (for example, when the project involves health-related data) or the EPFL institutional Human Research Ethics Committee. For more information on how/where to get ethical approval for projects involving personal data, researchers can contact

The EPFL Library supports EPFL researchers in the management of their data, provides tools and guidance at any step of the data life cycle. Contact the Research Data Library Team at:

Some definitions of the Swiss Federal Act on Data Protection (FDP)

Personal data

All information relating to an identified or identifiable person.


Any operation with personal data, irrespective of the means applied and the procedure, and in particular the collection, storage, use, revision, disclosure, archiving or destruction of data.

Sensitive personal data

Data on:

  1. Religious, ideological, political or trade union-related views or activities.
  2. Health, the intimate sphere or the racial origin.
  3. Social security measures.
  4. Administrative or criminal proceedings and sanctions.