The thought of a stranger filming you while you sit on your balcony or work in your garden is likely unsettling to most. But imagine if the snoop is a private detective hired by your insurance company to investigate whether you are a welfare cheat.
That scenario has divided opinion ahead of referendum in Switzerland, part of the country’s direct democracy system, where voters will decide on legal amendments establishing the type of surveillance insurance companies can use.
A revised law passed by the government in March gives insurers broad leeway to spy on potential fraudsters.It appears set for approval with nearly 60 per cent support, according to a survey conducted this month by the GFS Bern polling and research group.
In a 6-1 decision, the Strasbourg court agreed with a Swiss plaintiff who claimed her insurance company’s spying breached privacy rights. The plaintiff, Savjeta Vukota-Bojic, was struck by a motorcycle in 1995.
A decade later, her insurer requested that she undergo fresh medical examinations to assess if she still deserved full benefits. When she refused, her insurer hired detectives to watch her before cutting her benefits by 90 per cent.
Swiss courts said the spying was legal, but the European court disagreed and specifically criticised Bern for being “insufficiently precise” about the type of surveillance permitted.Proponents insist the revised law is necessary to control fraud and in turn keep insurance costs low.
But Silvia Schenker, a lawmaker with the centre-left Social Democratic Party, argued the amendments were hastily written under pressure from insurance industry lobbyists and lacked “legal clarity.” Also writing for SRF, she stressed that the law does not expressly prohibit companies from recording people in private spaces.
Another measure on Sunday’s ballot envisions a Switzerland where the insurance espionage debate might never have emerged, because the European rights court rulings would not supercede decisions by Swiss judges.
The “Swiss Law First” proposal, backed by rightwing groups, calls for domestic law to be placed above international law.Recent polling suggests the measure will be rejected, with the government opposed and surveys indicating voters are concerned about reputational damage to Switzerland.
President Alain Berset called it “a dangerous experiment.” It “not only hurts Switzerland’s reputation, it also causes concrete problems, especially for the Swiss economy,” Berset said.
“Switzerland has over 600 economic agreements that allow us to export to other countries,” said Oliver Steimann, of the business lobby group economiesuisse, who is against the proposal.If those deals are threatened because Switzerland rebukes international law, “it would threaten the country’s success as an exporting nation,” he told.