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Private detective

European court slams ‘vague’ Swiss snooping laws

After the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the use of private detectives by insurance companies violated one woman’s right to privacy, a major Swiss insurer has said it will stop using such detectives.

The insurance company SUVA said on Thursday it would "for the moment" stop using insurance detectives to make sure its customers were telling the truth. 

The decision came after a 62-year-old woman in Switzerland won a case at the ECHR after she was tailed by a private detective, who was hired by an insurance firm to assess the extent of her disability. The sleuth’s evidence was partially responsible for reducing the woman’s health insurance payments.

The ECHR said there was nothing wrong with the insurance company secretly gathering evidence. But the woman’s rights had been violated by the lack of regulation on how much data could be collected and how it could be used.

“While Swiss legislation did empower insurance companies to take ‘necessary investigative measures’ and collect ‘necessary information’ where an insured person had not been forthcoming with information, these provisions were insufficiently precise,” said an ECHR statement on Tuesday.

“In particular, they did not indicate when and for how long surveillance could be conducted, or include safeguards against abuse, such as procedures to be followed when companies are storing, accessing, examining, using, communicating or destroying information. This created a risk of unauthorised access to and disclosure of information.”

The woman, who suffered brain damage after being struck by a motorcycle, had been in dispute with her insurance company over the size of her incapacity payments. The private detective was hired after she refused further medical examinations.

Thomas Gächter, an expert in social security law at the University of Zurich told Swiss public television’s SRF 10 vor 10 news programme that he was “unsurprised” by the verdict as Swiss law in this area is “thin”. He called on parliament to address the shortfalls in the legal system.

Gächter added that the ECHR ruling was specific to the use of surveillance in the social insurance realm and would not affect the use of private detectives in other areas.

swissinfo.ch with agencies


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