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Welfare war Swiss detectives may use GPS devices to catch benefit cheats

A picture of a man on crutches in a crowd.

Detectives will be able to observe and actively monitor an individual.

(Keystone)

Tracking devices can be used to investigate cases of suspected welfare abuse in the future, parliament decided on Monday.  A judge’s approval will still be needed, however.

Cases of benefit fraud regularly spark heated debate in Swiss politics and public life. In 2016, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decided that there was no legal basis in Swiss law for monitoring suspects using GPS tracking devices. The Swiss parliament – both the House of Representatives and the Senate - has agreed that a relevant law should therefore be introduced, Swiss public television, SRF, reported on Tuesday.

The use of GPS was a point of contention during Tuesday’s debate. The devices allow detectives to trace a person’s location or to establish, for example, if they are driving a car while claiming to be severely handicapped.

+ A quarter of Swiss GDP goes toward social benefitsexternal link

The Federal Council is opposed to this idea but despite this, both chambers of parliament decided that detectives would be able to use technical equipment to determine a person’s location, SRF reported.

This means that detectives will be able to observe and actively monitor an individual. However, unlike when making video and sound recordings, detectives will still need a court’s approval to use any tracking technology. 

Home Affairs Minister Alain Berset said that whilst the Federal Council generally supported the idea of closely observing suspected disability cheats, these measures may infringe on an individual’s right to privacy.

“Insurers should not have more power than the prosecuting authorities,” he told the council. Berset also noted that the law’s definition of “technical instruments to determine location” was too vague, and could theoretically also include devices such as drones.

SRF-RTS/ln

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