The vote comes after European and federal Swiss courts ruled recently that Switzerland’s workplace accident (Suva) and disability insurance (IV) agencies had carried out extensive surveillance on suspected cheats without having the necessary legal backing.
But after yesterday’s parliamentary vote, all of Switzerland’s social welfare agencies, the unemployment office included, have the go-ahead to use private detectives to investigate people they believe may be abusing the system.
Critically, the new rules also allow for insurance agencies to make voice and video recordings of suspected cheats in both public areas and private areas that are clearly visible from a public location – such as balconies and gardens – without a judge’s sign off.
Benefit agencies will also be track suspected cheats using tools such as GPS with a judge’s sign off, with Social Affairs Minister Alain Berset warning that using drones to locate individuals was not out of the question.
Switzerland’s conservative parties welcomed the result of the vote saying it allowed welfare agencies to continue their current surveillance strategies. They cited the example of the canton of Graubünden where authorities had ordered surveillance in 46 cases out of a total of 5,000. In 16 of those cases, people were found to be cheating, with a cost saving to the taxpayer of 2.6 million francs.
'Benefits cheats will be dealt with more harshly than terrorists'
But the Greens, the Socialist Party (SP) and Swiss unions came out strongly against the new rules.
"The model discussed yesterday [in parliament] is a huge attack on rights to privacy," Leena Schmitter, spokesperson for Swiss union Unia, told The Local.
"People on benefits also have a right to privacy. Such measures cast suspicion on all unemployed people and fan mistrust," she added.
Meanwhile SP national councillor Barbara Gysi was quoted as saying by Swiss news portal 20 minutes: “This type of surveillance is all out of proportion. Suspected disability insurance cheats will be dealt with more harshly than terrorists.”
In a statement on the new rules, the SP said that while authorities had to fight benefit fraud, the new rules gave private detectives greater surveillance powers over the entire population than the police currently held.
The Greens for their part expressed concerns there were no clear rules when it came to how benefit agencies should determine if a suspected cheat should be subject to surveillance.
During Monday's debate. the Greens had also argued a judge should sign off before private detectives were allowed to carry out voice and video recordings of suspected benefits cheats.