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Secret surveillance No legal basis for spying on suspected insurance fraudsters

Insurance fraudsters need not fear private eyes for now

(Keystone)

The use of detectives to verify whether a Swiss resident is unfairly claiming accident or disability insurance lacks legal basis, according to Switzerland’s highest court. 

On Wednesday, the Federal Supreme Court in Lausanne put the brakes on the practice used by the Federal Social Insurance Office and private insurers to detect fraudsters. Subjecting suspicious claimants to surveillance was found to infringe on their privacy and lacked legal backing, said the court.  

The case that led to the decision concerned an individual on disability insurance who was monitored over four days for between and five and nine hours at a time. As a result of the surveillance, his disability benefits were stopped: a decision that was confirmed by the Zug Administrative Court. 

The Supreme Court agreed with the decision to stop disability payments. It stated that the degree of public interest trumped privacy rights and surveillance was ordered on the basis of concrete suspicions and carried out only in public spaces. 

However, the court also pointed out that there was no legal basis to carry out surveillance operations based on suspicions, weakening insurers’ chances of success against future appeals of this nature.   

EU precedent 

The issue was first raised by a 62-year-old woman from Zurich who was spied on by her insurer. She brought the case before the European Court of Justice. A few months ago, the Strasbourg-based court ruled that the secret surveillance infringed on her right to privacy as it was used systematically even though it was carried out in the public domain. 

Insurers will have to wait for changes in the law before resuming surveillance operations. In January, a committee of the House of Representatives supported a proposal from the Senate to launch an initiative to allow insurers to hire private detectives. 

Meanwhile, insurers have to resort to other means to identify scammers. 

“There are other means, like internet research, etc. If we look at the figures, of the 650 cases of fraud only 180 required surveillance to prove fraud,” Ralf Kocher of the Federal Social Insurance Office told Swiss Public Television RTS. 

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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