The (In-)Visibility of Interpreters in Legal Wiretapping. A Case Study: How the Swiss Federal Court Clears or Thickens the Fog

Cornelia Griebel, Nadja Capus


Interpreters in lawful interception of communications are an almost invisible group of language professionals. They participate in secret surveillance measures and enable law enforcement authorities to intercept conversations held in a foreign language. This group of translational agents who perform a hybrid activity between interpreting and translation within an institutional legal context has received scant attention from either translation and interpreting or legal studies. If the topic is addressed at all, it is most often examined within the context of police interpreting, even though intercept interpreters do not participate in the kind of triadic communication situation typical of face-to-face interpreting. Moreover, the sensitive context makes it difficult to collect data on the topic. In this article, we analyse nine judgments rendered by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court (FSC) from 2002 to 2019 concerning lawful interception with interpreters. Higher courts not only dispense justice but also contribute to the continued development of the law. Their judgments are also a rich source of knowledge, providing rare information about an understudied research area. These judgments are crucial because, as we will argue, it is the legal order and its implementation through jurisprudence that shape the degree of (in-)visibility of intercept interpreters. In addition, these judgments provide valuable information about the working processes and professional context of intercept interpreters. Our qualitative content analysis reveals that the FSC explicitly demands the visibility of intercept interpreters and their activity in some cases while implicitly accepting or deliberately generating their invisibility in others.

Cite as: Capus & Griebel, JLL 10 (2021), 37–98, DOI: 10.14762/jll.2021.37


criminal law procedure; intercept interpreting, wiretapping, communication interception, invisibility, legal translation studies, police interpreting, skopos theory, functional theory

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